Report: D-League to experiment with NFL-style challenge system that allows coaches to trigger reviews

Referees review a shot late in the fourth quarter of an April 2014 76ers-Celtics game. (USA TODAY Sports).
Referees review a shot late in the fourth quarter of an April 2014 76ers-Celtics game. (USA TODAY Sports).

The D-League has, in recent years, become something of a test laboratory, a place where the NBA and its teams can experiment with newtechnologies and potential tweaks to existingrules and on-courttactics before deciding whether to adopt them at the top-flight level. The latest such experiment, according to Gino Pilato of D-League Digest: an NFL-style challenge system that allows coaches to trigger reviews of calls they deem questionable.

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According to sources, coaches will receive one challenge in regulation, if the challenge is successful the team will be allowed an additional challenge with a maximum of two challenges. Teams will also be granted one challenge in each overtime period, and if successful will be issued another challenge, once again with a maximum of two challenges. It is also important to note that there will be no carry-over of any unused challenge.

Furthermore, coaches will need to call a timeout (full or 30-second) to challenge then “twirl their finger” to indicate the challenge. Plays that can be challenged include personal fouls, but not flopping calls. Technical fouls can’t be challenged as well.

The NBA's actually been considering a challenge-based system for several years. Former commissioner David Stern discussed it with's Ken Berger back in April 2011:

"Eventually, you may have someone sitting at a desk rather than having a Talmudic discussion of three referees every time there's a disputed play," Stern said. "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. … We have to find a way to speed the game up, and to get it right. That's the most important thing."

As a suffering New York Giants fan, I'm glad to hear that there won't be any flags involved in the D-League's system.

Under Stern's successor, commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA has placed a premium on transparency in officiating and an increased emphasis on getting things right. It introduced a centralized replay review center to "immediately identify camera angles that can help officials make the correct calls" and increased the number of review "triggers" that enable refs to take another look at a play about which there might be some uncertainty. A challenge system allowing coaches to trigger a review would add an extra layer of oversight, and limiting it to just one challenge per team per game, and requiring a team to have a timeout to be able to initiate a review, ought to keep things from getting bogged down too terribly.

That said, implementing more replay reviews would seem to run contrary to the league's evident interest in expediting games, whether by funneling all reviews through the new replay center or by literally shortening contests. (How successful the replay center actually is in speeding things up remains a matter of some debate. NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn told's Matt Moore that, through the first three days of the 2014-15 season, the average time of a replay was 49 seconds, down from 90 seconds last season. It sure hasn't felt that way at times, though.)

While a challenge-only system might speed things up by eliminating the need for other types of reviews, as Eye on Basketball's James Herbert suggests, it seems unlikely that the league would head in that direction, given its significant investment in and recent expansion of replay. Besides, as has been noted in prior discussions of NBA game length, there are other areas where the league could save some time — a reduction in the number of timeouts a team gets per half, just making sure timeouts don't last twice as long as they're supposed to, etc. — that might make enough room for the potentially beneficial addition of a coach's challenge.

How beneficial said challenges would actually be, of course, will depend on the coaches making them. As we've seen over the years in the NFL, some coaches (Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example) have been more successful in identifying plays more likely to be overturned on review than others (like, say, Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers). It's unclear whether that's because Tomlin has a better feel for the vicissitudes of officiating than Harbaugh or because his assistants watching from booths high atop Heinz Field have sharper eyes in the sky than Harbaugh's. Of course, could we wind up seeing basketball coaches stationing assistants in arena boxes above the floor to get a better vantage point on which plays are worth contesting? Maybe that Robert Pera-Dave Joerger headset rumor was less crazy than prescient!

While the potential problems of implementing challenge-based review during games could take some time to suss out, a test run at the D-League level seems perfectly in keeping with the Silver-era NBA's willingness to search high and low for ways to get as many calls right as possible, and to do the best job it can of reducing officiating errors that mar otherwise competitive contests. (Like, say, this past Sunday's Hornets-Knicks game.) The league must also strive to do so as quickly as possible, of course, but if you're going to pick something to prioritize, getting things right seems like a pretty good point of emphasis.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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