Basketball referees occupy a unique and often underappreciated role in the world of sports. Their job is demanding, requiring a deep understanding of the game, quick decision-making skills, and the ability to maintain composure under intense pressure - and they rarely get the credit they deserve.

The question of how much basketball referees get paid is a topic of interest for many, particularly those considering a career in sports officiating or fans curious about the inner workings of the sport.


Understanding the Levels

NBA Referees

At the pinnacle of basketball refereeing stands the National Basketball Association (NBA), where the referees are the most visible and face the highest level of scrutiny. NBA referees' salaries vary based on experience and the number of games officiated.

Entry-level referees start with a salary that is reported to be around $250,000 per year. As they gain experience and officiate in more games, including playoff games and finals, their earnings can increase substantially.

Seasoned referees can earn up to $550,000 annually. It's also important to note that these figures can vary and are often supplemented by benefits and bonuses, especially for those who officiate during the playoffs and finals.

NCAA Referees

In college basketball, the NCAA referees oversee games ranging from Division I to Division III. Their payment structure is different from the NBA, as they are usually paid per game and are not paid on a salary.

Reports suggest that NCAA Division I referees can earn between $1,000 to $2,500 per game, which translates to an average annual income that can range significantly based on the number of games officiated. Referees in the lower divisions (D2 & D3) typically earn less per game than referees in the higher divisions (D1).

International Referees

Referees who officiate international games under FIBA (International Basketball Federation) have different pay scales, often influenced by the country, the level of the competition, and the game's importance. For instance, referees in top European leagues can earn a significant amount per game, sometimes comparable to NCAA Division I game rates or even rookie NBA referees.

High School and Amateur Referees

At the high school and amateur levels, referees are generally paid per game. The pay varies widely depending on the state or region, the level of competition, and the referee's experience. Based on our data, an average high school basketball referee should expect to make $50-$100 per game.


Factors Influencing Referee Salaries

Experience and Skill Level: More experienced referees, especially those who have demonstrated their skills at the highest level, are often compensated at a higher rate.

Level of Competition: Higher levels of competition, such as the NBA or NCAA Division I, naturally command higher pay.

Geographical Location: Referees in regions where basketball is more popular or where the cost of living is higher might receive higher pay.

Game Importance: Playoff games, championship games, and international tournaments usually offer higher pay.

Full-time vs. Part-time: In the NBA, referees are full-time employees, while at other levels, they may be working on a part-time or game-by-game basis.


Career Path and Additional Earnings

The path to becoming a professional basketball referee starts at the high school or amateur level, progressing through college basketball and eventually to professional leagues like the NBA. This journey requires years of training, a deep understanding of the rules, physical fitness, and the ability to handle the pressures of the job.

Being a referee can be lucrative - both in the short and long term. As a high level referee you can earn beyond your regular salary, through training camps, clinics, and other basketball-related activities. These opportunities not only provide extra income but also help in honing your skills and staying updated with the rules and techniques of officiating.

Actionable Tip: Aspiring referees, who aim to one day referee in the NBA, should begin their journey at the high school or amateur level as young as they can. The earlier you start, the better your chance of making it to the NBA… as a referee!

Here’s a breakdown of just how much you can expect to earn at every stage of your officiating career.



Average Pay per Game

Annual Earnings Range


High School

$50 - $100


Part-time, varies by state and experience

NCAA Division III

$100 - $200


Part-time, varies by conference and experience

NCAA Division II

$200 - $400


Part-time, varies by conference and experience

NCAA Division I

$1,000 - $2,500


Part-time, varies by conference and experience

International Leagues



Varies by country and competition level



$250,000 - $550,000

Full-time, includes benefits and bonuses


Wrap Up

The pay scale for basketball referees varies widely depending on the level at which they officiate. From the high school courts to the glitz of the NBA, referees' compensation reflects their experience, skill, and the level of competition they oversee. While the financial rewards are substantial, especially at the highest levels, the path to becoming a professional referee is demanding and requires a deep commitment to the sport, as well as plenty of forward planning.

Basketball referees play a vital role in ensuring the games are fair and enjoyable. Their compensation, while variable, is generally in line with the responsibility and expertise they bring to the court. Whether it's for the love of the game, the thrill of being part of the action, or the financial rewards, basketball refereeing is a challenging and rewarding job for anyone who truly loves the game.