The NZ NBL is hauling in coaches and players for an early plea for a smaller fine or face fronting up before its review panel to face the music for straying from protocol or unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Is the NBL right in its decision to come down hard on such indiscretions to spruce up the code's image or is it robbing basketball of its sheen in what has traditionally been embraced as acceptable jousting that keeps fans entertained?

Well, it's up there with the MVPs — no, not the points in the paint or the rebounds but, supposedly, the cheap shots coaches have been firing at the referees in the National Basketball League this season.

The first-offence $250 fine — reduced to $125 on an early guilty plea — must feel like a steel-capped boot in the kisser this winter for the coaches who have traditionally smooched with the boundaries of intimidating and ridiculing the blokes in black and beige, much to the amusement of parochial fans and chagrin of officials.

It's the first year the NBL has established a review panel to stop overzealous mentors who have had the licence — akin to politicians under parliamentary privilege — to cast aspersions on officials' ability to see clearly, never mind make sound cognitive judgments.

So are coaches having to book appointments with the adjustment bureau to ensure they don't stray over the line, physically and metaphorically speaking?

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Taylor Corporation mentor Zico Coronel doesn't think so because questioning officials is an integral part of the code's tradition.

"Basketball is probably a very, very difficult sport to referee compared to a lot of other sports because of permissible and impermissible contact," says Coronel before the Jarrod Kenny-captained Hawks tip off against the Nelson Giants at Trafalgar Centre in round six of the NBL at 7pm tomorrow.

What made basketball "extremely difficult" to control was the refs' perception of whether a player pushed an opponent too hard or, as chastised aggressors feel, the aggrieved party "fell over" too easily.

"It's very hard for referees to control big people moving very quickly in a 360-degree game — compared with rugby that is 180-degree for the most part — where they have a lot to look at everything, including off-the-ball contacts."

With someone always feeling he has had a raw deal, Coronel has complete admiration for officials who receive some form of remuneration in a career with a humble voluntary beginning.

Rangers coach Jeff Green and a player's body language need no interpretation on what they think of this referee's decision against the Jets in Palmerston North last month. Photo / Photosport
Rangers coach Jeff Green and a player's body language need no interpretation on what they think of this referee's decision against the Jets in Palmerston North last month. Photo / Photosport

Supercity Rangers coach Jeff Green got the ball rolling in the opening round in their win over the Manawatu Jets early last month.

The charismatic Green had accepted an early guilty plea to three charges of unsportsmanlike behaviour, excessively disputing decisions, along with making an obscene gesture in the televised affair.

"Please accept my apologies and my sincere regret that we, as a league, had to endure through my actions and the negative publicity it generated, when it should have been a celebration of the start of the new season with our league being back on live television," he had said.

After round five last week, the NBL review panel has drawn a line on the sand pertaining to the rules of engagement when it comes to coaches and officials.

So how do you plead Nelson coach Mike Fitchett, after a refs' report demanding an inquiry on your behaviour?

Guilty, according to NBL general manager Justin Nelson after speaking with Fitchett who had accepted he had strayed from protocol in letting his frustrations cloud his judgments.

"I'm confident that this warning will help him to remember that we are watching and we expect all of our coaches and players to act appropriately towards officials," Nelson said, after the mentor had approached the referees to dispute a decision immediately after the final buzzer of his team's narrow loss to the Canterbury Rams on Thursday last week.

Fitchett is on a good behaviour bond, as it were.

Do it next time, mate, and the panel will throw the book at you under the NBL tribunal system.

Southern Huskies coach Anthony Stewart puts in a please explain to a referee in their double-header matches in New Zealand last month. Photo / Photosport
Southern Huskies coach Anthony Stewart puts in a please explain to a referee in their double-header matches in New Zealand last month. Photo / Photosport

Next?

Southern Huskies coach Anthony Stewart has been charged for slagging off the whistle blowers in a post-match interview with the media following the game against the Southland Sharks last Sunday.

Tasmania franchise coach Stewart had questioned the conduct and level of officiating and went as far as accepting he would probably be slapped a fine for his outburst.

"The league has a process for seeking clarification on decisions in a game and I would encourage coach Stewart to work through those channels in the future," Nelson said, a former mentor himself, who respected and understood the pressures coaches encountered at the height of battle.

However, he felt referees also were under a similar duress so pots should refrain from calling the kettle black.

Instead he encouraged Stewart and Co to phone him for a chin wag.

"I'd much rather have those conversations and cop some of that frustration instead of issuing fines," Nelson said. "There are better things for Anthony to be spending his money on."

Stewart had 48 hours to either accept an early guilty plea or front up at a hearing.

Hawks coach Zico Coronel says referees do a remarkable job in a sport that is extremely difficult to officiate but the whistle blowers should also be held accountable. Photo / Photosport
Hawks coach Zico Coronel says referees do a remarkable job in a sport that is extremely difficult to officiate but the whistle blowers should also be held accountable. Photo / Photosport

Coronel, who has never had to front up to a judiciary hearing or pay a fine in his career, albeit for the best part as an assistant, says a mitigating factor for his Huskies counterpart is the difference in interpretation of rules and him having to adapt to the NBL here although a Kiwi ref officiated with two Aussie ones in matches hosted in Tasmania.

The NBL crackdown doesn't spare players either. Rangers player Tim Quarterman also has been put on a similar 48-hour notice after two referees' report of unsportsmanlike behaviour after the win over Taranaki Mountainairs last Sunday.