Behind the Whistle: How Much Do College Basketball Referees Earn?

Referees are an important part of the basketball game since they maintain order. But how much do college basketball refs make?

How Much Do College Basketball Referees Earn

NCAA college basketball refs make anywhere between $58,000 and $72,000 dollars annually. While some NCAA divisions pay almost up to $2,000 per game, the other divisions start to dwindle in their pay since the games aren’t as large or as popular as some of the other divisions. 

As a sports aficionado, the amount of times I’ve talked to referees about their salary has always fascinated me. Their job is almost just as important as the player’s since they maintain order and provide a fair game by making sure everyone follows the rules. Without them, the game would be unfair, and would be at a disadvantage towards one team or another.


The job of a basketball referee is to ensure that the game is played fairly by enforcing the rules unbiasedly toward both teams. 

This includes making decisions on fouls, violations, and other infractions, as well as administering penalties such as free throws and technical fouls. 

How Basketball Referees Are Paid

Referees are paid on a number of factors, not just one sole idea. 

They are paid based on their experience level, performance, conference, and tournament level. Let’s look at each one of these factors.

Basketball Referee 1

Experience Levels

Basketball officials are mainly paid for their experience level. 

Depending on how well-trained they are, depends on how many games they’ve officiated, what training they’ve received, and their dedication to the sport. 

Experience level also comes from time having played the game. 

Basketball officials that have played the game themselves are usually more experienced than referees who have not played the game that much. 

Performance Level

Basketball referees, just like players, must perform. 

And their performance levels are a really important factor when it comes to deciding their paycheck. 

If they are constantly making bad calls, they won’t be invited to the next game to officiate or be offered a step up in pay for the next round of games. 

Their performance level is very important in deciding their paychecks with the highest-performing referees making substantially more than the lowest-performing basketball referees. 

Conference Level

The conference in which NCAA referees officiate also decides the size of their paychecks. 

This is because some conferences perform for larger audiences than others. 

With larger audiences comes the need for tighter control and regulations of the game. 

This means the NCAA basketball referee for larger divisions needs to be a higher performing, higher caliber type of ref, compared to those referees who officiate for divisions where the games are in front of not so many people. 

NCAA referee pay is linked directly to the conference level. 

Tournament Level

The tournament level during the season also decides basketball referees’ pay. 

This is because tournament levels also garner larger crowds which also require a higher caliber, higher performing type of referee. 

A referee with lots of experience who is high performing would be considered satisfactory during tournaments since tournaments are so important in the NCAA, and calls need to be fair, exact, and perfect. 

How Much Do College Basketball Referees Earn
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Average Earnings Of College Basketball

During an NCAA college basketball game, referees earn money by the game. 

NCAA basketball referees usually receive compensation that ranges in the $40,000 dollar per year range. This salary is the same whether they play one game of five or six games in a row.  NCAA leagues determine the type of salary the referee will make. 

Different conference levels and tournament levels often change that, but for the most part, on average, a NCAA basketball referee will receive $40,000 per year. 

Some Division I referees earn up to $150,000 dollars per year, officiating dozens of games across multiple conferences. 

All referees are independent contractors and must cover 100% of their own traveling expenses. 

The busiest NCAA referees can work 5-6 games per week and run around the country officiating different games. 

In the Atlantic 10 division, male officials are paid $3,300 per game, while women are only paid $2,300 per game. 

Divisions like the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten can be paid as much as $2,000 per game. 

Referees actually make less during NCAA march tournaments. Here is an outline for the average earnings of ncaa basketball referees when TV stations broadcast march madness. 

  • $1,200 for first round games.
  • $1,400 for second round games. 
  • $2,000 for for Final Four games

These are the average tournament earnings of basketball referees. Also mentioned above were some average earnings between different divisions and skill levels. 

Pay Disparity

There is a huge gap in pay between referees officiating men’s games and women officiating men’s games. 

On average, an NCAA basketball referee who is a man makes 22% more than a woman when it comes to officiating. 

Women’s games are officiated by more women than men, but women’s games on average, make 22% less. 

When talking about a huge budget, it’s not impossible for men and women to justify equal pay, but for some reason, pay is still way more than the national gender pay gap. 

How Much Do College Basketball Referees Earn

SEC paid referees’ pay gap is one of the most substantial, and calls to pay referees equally have been made from all over. 

The main argument for not paying for a women’s basketball game the same as a male basketball game is that men’s basketball generates more revenue and therefore is able to justify spending more per referee. 

Even during NCAA tournament games, this pay disparity is transparent. An NCAA basketball referee who is a man still makes more than a woman. 

A Women’s NCAA tournament game has a majority of women refereeing the games, and they still make substantially less than their male counterparts. 

But this argument has fallen on deaf ears, according to many. 

The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) paid nearly 22% less to women referees, a pay gap that’s sure to be closing very soon. 

Key Takeaways

  • Basketball referees make between $58,000 and $72,000.
  • Refs are paid based on experience level, performance, conference, and tournament level
  • There is a huge pay disparity between men and women college referees. 
  • Women are paid 22% less than men in NCAA
  • There are many benefits and challenges to becoming a NCAA referee. 

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