Have you thought about becoming a ref at the collegiate or NBA level? If so, this article is for you.
On one hand, the popularity of college and pro sports is at an all time high. On the other, the pressure on officials to get every call correct has never been higher. Being a great official is as much about knowing the rules and having great eyes as having an even temperament that can withstand the constant berating from coaches across the country.
Today, we'll explore the process to becoming an official and what you can expect to make should you get the job.
Process to Becoming an NCAA Basketball Ref
To become an NCAA basketball referee, you will need to go through a rigorous process that includes several steps. Here are the general steps you need to follow:
1. Obtain a bachelor's degree: Most NCAA referees have a bachelor's degree, although it is not a strict requirement.
2. Officiate at the high school level: Officiating at the high school level is a good way to gain experience and knowledge of the game.
3. Attend officiating clinics: Attend officiating clinics that are specifically designed for basketball referees. These clinics cover the rules of the game, mechanics, and positioning.
4. Obtain certification: Once you have attended the clinics, you will need to pass an exam to become certified.
5. Get experience: You will need to gain experience by officiating at different levels of basketball, such as junior high school, AAU, and college games.
6. Apply to be an NCAA referee: Once you have gained enough experience, you can apply to be an NCAA referee. This involves submitting an application, a resume, and a video of your officiating skills.
7. Attend training camps: If your application is accepted, you will need to attend training camps to continue your development as a referee and to prepare for the upcoming season.
8. Maintain your certification: To maintain your certification, you will need to attend annual clinics, pass an exam, and continue to gain experience by officiating games.
Process to Becoming an NBA Ref
The NBA in many cases follows a similar process. On their website, they break down the process, which looks like this.
1. April 1-August 31: Prospective officials should contacts any of these organizations to get started and get experience:
2. October 2-March 31: The NBA then scouts within these organizations and puts together a Top 100 list of candidates to move to the next round.
3. April 15-July 15: The Top 100 are then put through a training an evaluation phase at various grass roots events and elite camps.. The top refs from this step are typically hired to the NBA G League. Those not selected remain on a monitoring list for the next year.
4. Starting on June 15th, the NBA extends offers to ref in the G League. Those hired ref NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and/or participate in new hire orientation.
5. Hired referees then attend a Referee Preseason Meeting, work games throughout the season, and participate in regular evaluations and testing.
6. Starting on September 15th of the following year, G League referees are evaluated and recommended for hire to the NBA and WNBA.
In the video clip below, NBA referee Zach Zarba explains his journey.
How Much Do NCAA Basketball Officials Make?
According to sportscasting.com, the average NCAA official makes $58,829/year. This can vary by conference and how many games are reffed. Top earners in Power 5 conferences can earn up to $2,000 per game, which typically nets out to around $72,000/year. Of course, to get there, you have to be one of the very best.
Being a great official not only allows you to earn more during the season but provides additional opportunities in the post season. Officials typically get paid $1,000 per game to ref the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, $1,400 per game for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds, and $2,000 for any Final Four games.
In many cases, NCAA referees have to fund their own travel (smaller conferences). NCAA officials by nature will referee less games. The Big East conference, for example, had 20 men's basketball games per team during the 2022-2023 season.
How Much Do NBA Officials Make?
NBA refs are paid much more handsomely than their counterparts in college. An entry-level ref takes home a minimum of $600 per game, while the best referees earn up to $3,500 per game. On average, an NBA official makes $150,000-$550,000 per year. Why the large range?
On September 15, 2022, the National Basketball Referees Association or NBRA agreed to a new 7 year contract with the NBA. Details of the deal weren't released to the public, but the official statement from the NBRA said that "salary, travel, pension, and marketing rights issues" were all addressed.
Tony Brothers, as an example, is in his 28th year as an NBA official. His salary is most likely close to that $550k peak.
In terms of post season, the NBA works similar to college in that the best officials are selected and paid handsomely for their work. While official numbers have never been released, former disgraced official, Tim Donaghy, once said that refs will listen to league feedback so "they can make that extra $75-100k in the playoffs."
Becoming an NCAA or NBA referee is a process, for sure. Once there, however, it can be a rewarding and lucrative career. Most NBA officials are on the road at least 25 days per month. For some, that would be incredibly exhausting. For others, it would be exhilarating. Depending on the lifestyle you want to live, if you love the game and want to stay connected to it, becoming an official could be a worthwhile career path.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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