"I gotta go watch plays," says Jim Wishmier, sounding like a theater critic anticipating another night of drama.
He will see drama, all right—compelling acting, plaintive expressions and emotional outbursts from an ensemble cast that might include the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Indeed, the plays Wishmier will watch have occurred in recent NBA games and are awaiting his judgment of disputed referees' calls.
Wishmier (BSBA '72), who was a 6-4 shooting guard for the Pioneers, is integral to what the NBA calls its team inquiry website, or TIW.
"Teams are allowed to ask questions about plays," Wishmier says, "whether a call is made or whether a call is not made. I have access to the video on every game that's played. It shows the regular television angle and usually two or three alternate angles, such as baseline angles, overhead angles. I interpret the play and give the team an agree or disagree ruling."
The NBA began playing a shortened 66-game schedule on Christmas, the result of a lockout that ran from July 1–Dec. 8. In mid-July the league laid off 114 employees, including Wishmier, who was one of three group supervisors responsible for the oversight of the NBA's 60 referees. Wishmier been in that post for eight years.
"They basically eliminated the position," Wishmier says. "Fortunately, I was the only group supervisor to be rehired. So I'm hoping it leads to something bigger and better next year. I actually really enjoy [the TIW job], but I like the interpersonal relationships of dealing with referees on a daily basis better."
While laid off last summer, Wishmier started exploring avenues within college basketball. Ed T. Rush, the NBA director who hired Wishmier, does frequent consulting work with the Pac-12 Conference. He enlisted Wishmier to evaluate every play in assigned games and chart the calls made by the refs.
Wishmier, formerly a referee in the NBA and in two defunct minor leagues, the Continental Basketball Association and the World Basketball League, works out of his home in Aurora, Colo. His office is equipped with a 42-inch high-definition television, and five DVRs enable Wishmier to record all the NBA games on any given day. With remote control in hand, Wishmier will look at a play, stop the action, hit rewind and repeat the process until he has arrived at clarity.
Was that a charging foul on the offensive player going toward the basket or a blocking foul by the defender trying to stop him and theatrically flopping to the floor? Three-second violation by the offensive player? Defensive three-second violation? Did the defender impede the offensive player without the ball, bumping him off course?
"It's all across the board," Wishmier says of the plays that reach him. "I'm probably spending eight to 10 hours a day reviewing plays in my office at home. I have no time restrictions other than my self-imposed ones. I don't want anything to sit for more than 24 hours on my desk."
Already this season, Wishmier has detected a pattern. Six teams are sending in about 90 percent of the plays for TIW review. Understandably, Wishmier prefers not to publicly name those teams.
Wishmier submits his decisions to Joe Borgia, the NBA's vice president of referee operations. If Borgia agrees with Wishmier's judgment and his written analysis of the play, Borgia marks it as approved. An email response goes directly to the team filing the complaint, although upon completion of this process, any team in the league can examine all plays that were reviewed.
Wishmier says Borgia disagreed with just two of Wishmier's first 195 rulings. In those cases, Wishmier says, members from the referee operations and basketball operations departments in the league office in New York examine the play and reach a conclusion by vote.
Regardless of Wishmier's success rate, with the game over and the result final, what satisfaction does the TIW process bring a team whose complaint is upheld, particularly a team that lost?
"That's a good question," Wishmier says. "I don't know what satisfaction they get out of that. First of all, you have to understand that teams are paranoid with referees and umpires. So for the NBA to admit that an official missed a play, it must give the teams some sort of satisfaction. I don't know."