What are some core topics since the start of the 2022-23 CBA season? Is it the “loss” that Guangdong Southern Tigers faced against the Beijing Royal Fighters as a result of failure to reach the CBA Bubble on time due to COVID restrictions? Is it Yi Jianlian, a 35 year-old legend that’s entering his 20th season? Or is it the opening game consisting of last year’s Finals rematch between Zhejiang Lions and Liaoning Flying Leopards?
The answer lies in the change of the officiating scale, which has always been a topic of discussions in the past. After all, referees’ decisions on the court impact the results of games, which is always under the scrutiny of the public eye.
“Continuous kicking and pulling in the CBA is not going to improve the level of play,” Chinese commentator Yang Yi shared his doubts on the officiating during the match-up between Zhejiang Lions and Liaoning Flying Leopards.
In the game between Xinjiang Flying Tigers and Shenzhen Leopards, referees ignored Yu Dehao's continuous trampling on Lu Pengyu that led to Yang Yi insinuating that "the new version of this season's rules: hit as many people as you want, the victims will be called for fouls.”
Yang Yi later revealed on his radio program"Yang Yi Talks Basketball" that commentators on all platforms were warned by CBA not to be critical of the referees and their whistles on air, whether they believe the decisions to be correct or not.
Conversely, another commentator Su Qun published a long article titled "Is this a ‘warning’ given to me by the Chinese BasketballAssociation?" In the article, Su stated that he did not receive the so-called "warning" from the Basketball Association; instead, the message he received was from other CBA hosts and commentators in various groups of broadcast platforms. Su Qun also tracked down staff members from the Chinese Basketball Association, and they confirmed that though they did not issue any warnings to commentators, the association did communicate with broadcast platforms about this year's decision on officiating, and they hope that each platform will not question or criticize the level of officiating. If it is true, then the official approach is not a "one size fits all", but just minimizing any critiques.
In order to enable all fans to understand the new rules of CBA, the Chinese Basketball Association also released an article titled "Benchmarking the Executive Standards of FIBA Rules to Improve Competitiveness of the Men's Basketball". In the article, it talked about the standards of referees' whistles in the new season, "In order for Chinese basketball athletes to have a clear understanding of the level of physicality and officiating standards in international games, the new season's CBA officiating will be optimized and be consistent with FIBA standards."
In addition to the enthused discussions, there are tangible changes on the court. Liaoning Flying Leopards defeated Zhejiang Lions with a score of 74-64 on opening day, which was a low scoring affair. The competition was fierce with lots of physical contacts, but only 34 fouls were called in the game, including 18 for Liaoning and 16 for Zhejiang. In the post-game press conference, Liaoning star Guo Ailun sarcastically said in his interview "It was very good, very very good. I think the referees' calls were excellent! I really have to praise the referees." Dominique Jones, the import player of Jilin Northeast Tigers, was fined 10,000 RMB for criticizing the referees on Weibo. Since then, low scoring games have become the norm, Guangzhou Loonglions lost to Qingdao with a score of 59-80, setting this season’s lowest score. Zhejiang Lions, who had the highest average score last season, is currently ranked second to last in terms of average score with just 88.9 points per game. This can partly be attributed to the Injuries on the team, but more than likely it is an issue of adaptability to the new game.
The change of the referee's officiating standard has an impact on the league, of course, and any judgements cannot be determined after just three rounds. It is good to encourage physicality that’s closer to FIBA’s standards, but the referees are also constantly learning and improving. Fans may have to be patient as they watch CBA games during this transition period as the league works on perfecting a quality product on the court for everyone to enjoy.