A Player’s Guide to Officiating

In preparing to play a semifinal match at the 2013 USAR National Doubles tournament, I initiated a conversation with the assigned referee before warm-ups. When I questioned her about my opponent warming up on the court without proper eyewear, she promptly noted she “was only there to keep score.” As it turns out, she was also the mother of one of my opponents! I am not sure who at the tournament desk made that referee appointment, but needless to say, it was not a good choice. I immediately petitioned the desk for a replacement referee. How do you think that match would have been officiated if I had remained silent?

This situation begs the question whether players know the rules of officiating for sanctioned tournament matches. Players expect their referees to know all the rules, but do not always apprise themselves of the rules (another good reason to attend a rules clinic…). Unlike many sports, racquetball players are also referees when called to duty. All players should have a comprehension of the rules; not only for their benefit, but also for those they are entrusted to officiate. This article will discuss the player’s perspective of officiating, including appointment of referees, use of line judges, and appeals procedures.

Referring back to my previous example, all participants must agree to the referee appointed by the tournament director. According to Rule B.3, the principal official for every match shall be the referee who has been designated by the tournament director, or a designated representative, and who has been agreed upon by all participants in the match. The removal of a referee during a match is slightly different, requiring agreement of all participants, or the discretion of the tournament director. One player or team may request a change in referees during a match, which falls to the discretion of the tournament director. In some cases, the tournament director may elect to appoint two line judges and/or a scorekeeper to assist the referee in officiating the match [B.3].

During the match, the referee is responsible for making all decisions with regard to the rules. The use of line judges introduces four more eyes to the match, while the main referee maintains responsibility for making all calls. The opinion of the line judges is only considering when a call is appealed. Similar to the main referee, players may object to the appointment of a line judge prior to the start of play, but may only replace a line judge after play when both players agree, or at the discretion of the tournament director. When using line judges, the rules afford players three appeals per game, and a potential game-ending rally may be appealed without charge against the limit–even if the three-appeal limit has been reached [B.7(d)]. I witnessed a top ten pro fail to appeal a game-ending call because he did not know this option was available after exhausting the three appeals – the call would have been overturned!

Everything except technical fouls and forfeitures can be appealed [B.8]. This means that players may appeal calls or non-calls for skip ball, two-bounce get, short serve…you get the picture. However, the manner in which a call is appealed is important – A verbal appeal by a player must be made directly to the referee immediately after the rally has ended… The referee will recognize a player’s appeal only if it is made before that player leaves the court for any reason including timeouts and game-ending rallies or, if that player doesn’t leave the court, before the next serve begins [B.7 (b)]. This means if you appeal directly to a line judge, your appeal will not be recognized [B.7(c)]. Majority rules when using line judges – when two of the three officials agree or disagree – that decision is final. If there are conflicting opinions where one official has no opinion (denoted by a flat hand), the rally is replayed. Note: when either of the line judges dissent to the referee’s call (denoted by a thumbs down), that appeal will not count against the three-appeal limit [B.7(d)].

When a player feels the referee incorrectly interpreted a rule, the player may request the referee and/or the tournament director to cite the applicable rule in the rulebook. Players may protest any decision not involving the judgment of the referee. The stages of due process are the (1) tournament desk, (2) tournament director and (3) tournament rules committee [B.5(c)]. The tournament director should appoint a tournament rules committee to resolve any disputes that the referee, tournament desk, or tournament director cannot resolve [B.2]. Additionally, protests may be elevated to the state or national level as time permits.

The realistic aspect of officiating is that mistakes will inevitably be made – ask any NFL or MLB official. Nonetheless, the referee must do his best to make the right call based on his understanding of the rules. Tournament directors and players should work together to make sure referees are impartial and knowledgeable of the rules. However, when a player has a question about a rule, we should listen to the advice of Ronald Reagan – trust, but verify. Know your rules so you can appeal or protest in a timely manner. The CRA recommends that all players attend a local rules clinic and referee certification program so you are well equipped for your next tournament. If you have any questions regarding the rules, please contact me at Dave@coloradoracquetball.com.

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