Home > About, Missed travels > How many travels refs miss per game, and the reasons why

How many travels refs miss per game, and the reasons why

This video explains how many travels refs miss per game on average, and the reasons why. If you haven’t seen some of our other videos that reference it, you might be surprised.

If you’d rather read the transcript than watch the video, checkout the transcript below, although keep in mind there are good some video samples of actual missed travels at the 2:25 and 4:35 marks of the video.

Transcript of video:

We all know in basketball that missed travels are a problem, but it’s really hard to know just how MANY travels are getting missed by refs unless you break down a bunch of game video to get a good sense of the magnitude of the problem.

So we decided to find out for ourselves and break down a bunch of NBA game video to see just how many traveling calls were being missed, taking into account the language in the rulebook.

Well, after doing our analysis — depending on the specific players playing in the game — we counted arguably up to 40-50 travels per game that are not getting called, which is about half of the number of violations overall that are wrong or are missed!

Obviously, all of these travels – if they were called — would have a MAJOR impact on the outcome of most games. And it’s incredible that all of these missed travels are happening right in front of our eyes, and that includes the refs, the players, the coaches, the fans, and the media, but no one is really talking about it! Why is that? Do we just not care if a lot of players are getting away with exploiting our complacency on these missed travels?

I would bet die-hard basketball fans, deep down inside, do care that the rules be enforced and that the eventual champions are truly the champs…fair and square.

We’ve seen what happens when we blow off some of the underlying problems in other industries that turn out to be a house of cards when you look back on it…say, for example, the mortgage lending business. I know the collapse of the housing market is a much bigger deal than this, but when it comes to basketball, we STILL think it’s important to bring up the problem with missed travels so that people can decide for themselves if it’s something that should be addressed, and if not, why not?

With that, let’s go through some detailed examples of travels that are missed.

We’ll call the first category..

1) Pivot foot is raised before the ball is released.

According to the NBA rulebook, it states, “In starting a dribble after (1) receiving the ball while standing still, or (2) coming to a legal stop, the ball must be out of the player’s hand before the pivot foot is raised off the floor.” This is a big one that is missed A LOT, and here are a few examples to point out what we’re talking about…

[2:25 of video starts playing of missed travel examples]

As you saw, there were several examples in less than one quarter of play in one game where we saw this type of violation, yet it wasn’t called.

There’s a second category of travels that’s frequently missed that we’ll call…

2) Sneaking in an extra 1/2 step or full step while “completing a dribble”

According to the NBA rulebook, “A player who receives the ball while (1) he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.” The operative phrase here is “completion of a dribble.”

The problem with that is that “completion of a dribble” is vague. Refs are very inconsistent in calling what “completion of a dribble” is, which allows many players to sneak in an extra step before the first two steps. And this all gives the ballhandler a huge advantage over the defense and their defender. Here are a few examples.

[4:35 of video starts playing with more missed travel examples where we address the fact the word "gather" (as in "gathering the ball") is used in many NBA circles. But there's only one problem -- the word "gather" does not appear in the NBA rulebook, only the phrase "completion of a dribble," which is very subjective!]

As you saw from some of these video clips, players who exploit the inconsistency in how the refs are calling “completion of a dribble” are able to gain a really big advantage against their defenders, and when you add it up, can have a major impact on the outcome of the game.

Let’s get into a couple of games that we’ve analyzed to show just how many travels are being missed. For the 10/30/10 game between Denver and Houston, we counted 47 missed travel calls, which we’re calling “non-obvious,” which are basically those travels that are tough to miss we’ve been talking about. You’ll see that the pivot foot was lifted before releasing the ball 38 times between both teams. Denver had 24 of these violations. Houston had 14. And Carmelo Anthony was the lead in that he had 14 of these violations that were not called.

The second game involved Houston and LA (10/26/10) where there were 40 of these missed traveling calls. 34 were “pivot foot being raised before the ball is released,” with LA having 16 violations, with Kobe Bryant leading his team, and Houston having 18 with Kevin Martin having 6.

And isn’t it interesting that the leading scorers on their teams are typically the ones who are violating these rules, but are not getting called. So is it a coincidence? We think not. We think there is a very high correlation between high-scoring players and those players who are able to get away with travels.

So what are the reasons WHY we think so many travel calls are being missed?

1) Sometimes it can happen so quickly, it’s hard to detect with the naked eye at real speed. But we think that over time that if refs — if they were trained properly and knew what to look for — it would become much more natural for them to pick up on it and police these infractions.

2) When they do see it, we think “omission bias” kicks in, which is basically the concept that it’s less risky for a ref not to call it and be wrong (because less people will know they are wrong) than if they were calling it, and everyone knew they were calling it, and they were wrong.

3) They just don’t want to slow down the game, or get booed by fans. But we think over time, just like any other rule the NBA starts enforcing, the players will adjust and get better at not violating the rule if the refs are calling it, and eventually the game won’t be slowed down. Maybe at first as players are getting accustomed to it being called, but over time we think it will clean up the game and the game will resume at its normal pace.

So until the NBA does something to cleanup the massive number of missed travels that are occurring in a game and not getting called, we only have enough time at RefCalls.com to report on the most egregious traveling calls that are wrong or missed that have an impact on the game’s outcome at the end of games. But of course, we’ll also be publishing other bad calls and missed no-calls not related to traveling that have a bearing on the outcome of close games. too.

Remember that you can be a part of all this by reporting some of the most major violations that are called incorrectly be refs, or missed, by reporting them in the RefCalls.com/forums. And don’t forget that you can report really bad flops by players in the same forum that could eventually be featured on our sister site TopFlops.com.

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  • Mavsfan

    I posted this in one of the Rose travels videos, but I thought I’d do it here as well
    Rule 4 Definitions Section II-Dribble Part a says
    A dribble ends when the dribbler: 1)touches the ball simultanously with both hands 2) Permits the ball to come to rest while he is in control of it 3)Tries a field goal 4)Throws a pass 5)Touches a ball more than once while dribbling, before it touches the floor 6) Loses control 7)Allows the ball to become dead.

    The concept behind your second missed travel calls is the the term “completion of a dribble” is vague but it really isn’t. Seems to be well defined in this rule. The “gather” concept is derived from part 2 where the ball hasn’t come to rest while you gather it so the dribble has yet to end under rule 4 (or at least that is how it is interpreted almost universily, and because there is a basis for this interpretation, it seems valid to me)
    Anyway, I love the idea behind this site please keep posting. Just wanted to adress this issue.

    • RefCalls-TopFlops staff

      Thanks for the compliment and for your thorough research. We’ve actually been working on a piece that gets into the “permits the ball to come to rest while he is in control of it” clause, so stay tuned for that post.

    • m morales

      this is a pretty good explanation of the rule and how it is often interpreted. well said mavsfan. i encourage your website to take a look at the show “making the call with ronnie nunn” on NBatv. this will give a better idea of how and why certain call or no calls are made. 

  • Famam

     at the 5:40 point the first one is not a travel he’s dribbling the ball the whole time. In order for a travel to occur the player need to of completed his dribble first he did not, he was still legal dribbling and while dribbling you can take as many steps as you want in between dribbles.

    • RefCalls-TopFlops staff

       We used the word “arguably” before that first proposed travel.  Our focus was more on the second travel, which we felt more strongly about.  BTW: Can you point us to the section of the rulebook where it states a player can take as many steps as you want in between dribbles?  (no sarcasm here).  If it is allowed, chances are if a player took two or more steps in between dribbles, they have “paused” the ball, which is not allowed.

      • bope123

        I officiate HS and college so I cannot point it out to you in the NBA rulebook. The NBA rulebook is a complete joke most of the basketball world HS, NCAA, and even international use a very similar rulebook the wording is the same in almost all rules but the NBA just feels the need to be different and have everything worded differently. It’s a joke. At any rate, the reason why you can take as many steps as you want while dribbiling is b/c you have no pivot foot while dribbiling. You think the ball has to “pause” constituting a illegal dribble, your way off there. I can dribble as high as I want over my head bounce the ball as hard as I want to the floor without every bringing my hand under the ball (carry) or letting the ball pause in my hand (double dribble). I can also bounce it off the ground and let it bounce by itself while i continously move my feet for 10 steps if I want, then easily continue dribbling without every performing any illegal dribble. It’s really not that hard to show you what I meant if I was in the same room as you but I bit hard to explain.

  • bope123

     Overall, many of the travels you broke down here were not travels. You keep mentioning this gather step and basically saying it cheating, but it’s not and many of the times you should it in this video it was not called as a travel correctly. You have to understand that if neither foot is on the ground while the player is gathering his dribble or the ball is still loose he hasn’t full controlled and possessed the ball yet while trying to complete the dribble, this “first step” you keep talking about is not really his “first step”. I’m a HS ref so I hate the NBA rulebook so I’ll use my rules to explain why this isn’t a travel, his pivot is not yet established while hes “gathering” because he does not full control or posses the ball yet, once he full controls and possesses you need to look for the pivot and once that pivot is lifted it cannot return to the floor that is a travel. The other travels you were talking about I agree are missed way too often however even a couple you should in this video I wouldn’t full agree with, many times the player gained absolutely no advantage from the type of step you showed in that situation I wouldn’t call that travel. NBA’s traveling problem is absurd and needs to be corrected but many of the ones you showed on the video are not the ones that need to be corrected and weren’t even travels.

    • RefCalls-TopFlops staff

      Thanks for your comment.  We’ve expanded on this post with a follow-up one that explains further the problem with missed travels we mention here.  Scroll down to about halfway down the page to the first section under the bold font about missed travels at http://wp.me/p1uswc-8x.  We really break down the rulebook based on a player’s control of the dribble.  We realize there will be some folks who are uncomfortable with calling all of these examples a travel — it’s a shock to the system, including us.  That’s why we use the word “arguably” a lot.  But if there is a rulebook, then the rules should be followed, not just left up to a ref’s discretion if an advantage was gained.    I think it shows just how bad the NBA has let things go in regard to missed travels.  It never was like this in the 80′s.  If the refs enforce the rules, the players will adjust like they always do.  Refs shouldn’t be the ones who have to adjust to the players.  That’s the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

      • username

        Can you back up the claim that it “was never like this in the 80′s”?  You shouldn’t throw out stuff like that if you can’t back it up.  I mean, I doubt you’ve looked at hours of game film from the 80′s scrutinizing them in slow motion like people do today?  Here’s Jordan getting away with your first category of travel back in 1988: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwoWli_rlVU&feature=related#t=1m14s

        • RefCalls-TopFlops staff

          Yes, we lived it (and even watched in the 70s, probably long before your time). And other experts have concurred. There are always exceptions to the rule based off variances from one ref to another, though. Interestingly, Jordan was one of the catalysts who got refs to relax it. His moves were so popular, and so many new players started to copy, the league didn’t want to put the kabosh on the party.

      • bope123

        Wheather you like it or not an officials judgement is apart of the game. In fact that retarded NBA rulebook is really written to put more judgement in the officials hands than any other. I am in no way uncomfortable with the amount of travels that need to be called. In fact, I’ve had many coaches and players tell me I call way to many travels. That’s my rule, that’s the rule I know best. I agree the NBA has a serious traveling problem but this video did not show the real problems. The real problems lie in illegal spin moves, all this hopping motions players do, and a couple of other things. And to be honest it’s pretty clear your’ve never officiated before but that’s “ok”, I love the idea of this site and that’s why I am trying to help clarify things.