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NBA discusses 'challenge flags' for coaches to dispute calls with referees

David Stern David Stern said that changes could soon be coming to the NBA's video review system. (John W. McDonough/SI)

NBA coaches could soon have the opportunity to put a flag where their mouth is when raising disputes with referees during games.

Grantland.com reports that NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson said that the league's Competition Committee recently discussed the possibility of adding "challenge flags" to the NBA's review system. National Football League coaches are allowed to dispute certain calls with the use of a challenge flag.

Stu Jackson spoke to a couple of reporters, myself included, at length about potential rule changes the league’s competition committee discussed behind closed doors this week. Among them: a potential “challenge flag” system for coaches to use only in the last two minutes of regulation and overtime. The committee did not come to a consensus on that issue, though they did agree that if the league does adopt such a system, they should at first use it in postseason games only. Coaches would get only one challenge per game.

Since the adoption of new replay guidelines in 1999, NFL coaches have been allowed multiple challenges per game on certain plays that are deemed reviewable. In recent years, coaches have taken to initiate a challenge by throwing a red flag out onto the field whereas they previously communicated their challenge requests using an electronic pager.

The NBA's instant replay system has increased in scope over the last decade. Beginning with reviews for buzzer-beating baskets, the system has expanded to include flagrant fouls, altercations, clock malfunctions, whether a three-point shooter's foot was on the line, clear-path fouls, late-game goaltending calls, among other scenarios. Jackson told reporters this week that the Competition Committee recommended allowing referees to review all aspects of block/charge calls that occur in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime. That recommendation is subject to approval from the NBA's full Board of Governors.

The league's current video review process involves the three on-court officials stopping play to head to a courtside monitor, where they can review the disputed call or situation. The referees are at the mercy of the video feed available to them and are usually eyeing a fairly small screen and using headphones to hear the audio. NBA coaches currently have no ability to influence the system.

The biggest complaint with the NBA's current system is that it takes too long to unfold, and NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver told reporters last week that the NBA will consider a system used by the National Hockey League that involves an additional official reviewing the play in question at an off-site facility and then communicating the correct call to the referees on the court, who make the necessary adjustments and proceed with the game.

"We want to get it right," Stern said. "We do have concerns about additional replay, but we're looking at it. we're actually even toying with the notion of whether replay can be done off-site review, the way it's done in the NHL, to relieve the burden on the referees, who are stuck in the middle of intense game-time action."

Silver added: "An off-site review would potentially speed up the process. ... If you have a group of officials in a broadcast center somewhere -- [the] location could almost be anywhere in this day of age of digital media -- there wouldn't be that delay which officials need to walk over, turn the monitor around, put the headphones on, call for the replays. You could have off-site officials looking at multiple monitors at once."

Regardless of whether off-site review is adopted for the 2013-14 season, Stern expressed a desire for a more efficient instant replay system.

"We've got to find a way to make it a little smoother," he said. "But we like [instant replay] a lot, because it is very much evidence of the fact that we care about getting [the calls] right."

Stern previously raised the possibility of adding challenge flags and an off-site official to the league's video review system as far back as 2011, according to the New York Daily News.

"Eventually, you may have someone sitting at a desk rather than having a discussion of three referees every time there's a disputed play," Stern said, according to the paper. "We might have one person whose job it is to keep the headphones on and always watch. And you might let a coach throw the flag in the last two minutes. We're striving for accuracy."
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