A few years ago, on the first day of Jenna Reneau's ('15) new job, she ran about four miles over the course of two hours while a few hundred people judged her work. Reneau is a referee in the NBA's G League and for college women's conferences Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Southland. If she has her way, she'll be running up and down the WNBA and then NBA hardwood in a few years.
Reneau officiated volleyball games in high school and basketball collegiate games while at North Central Texas College, but she never thought of it as a career path. When she transferred to UNT in 2013, she was considering studying sports medicine or marketing. Instead, she majored in communication studies with a minor in alternative dispute resolution -- skills that would prove vital to her career.
"Communication is imperative in everything we do," Reneau says. "Non-verbal, verbal, perception -- you have to possess confidence, make the call, communicate to everybody in a way that's clear and concise."
It was when she was attending a high school officiating camp to maintain certification that she was approached by an NBA officiating scout.
"He asked if I'd be interested in working in the NBA," Reneau says. "I was like, 'You mean the WNBA?' And he said they needed more women referees for both. That's when I realized this could be a career for me."
The Krum native officiated her first G League game in 2016 -- and it was a barnburner. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers defeated the Maine Red Claws, 152-128.
"I went to the locker room mentally and physically exhausted," she says. "But I was like, 'That was so much fun, I love this!'"
Reneau, who typically works four to five games a week traveling around the country, says she's proud to be part of a league that helps athletes develop into NBA professionals. And she appreciates that the life of a referee is virtually rut-free.
"Every week is so different. Every game is unique," Reneau says. "It's awesome."
A day in the life of a referee
Working in sports may sound fun -- and it is, according to Jenna Reneau ('15) -- but there's also a lot of hard work involved. Officials are sometimes in cities for fewer than 24 hours and usually don't have much spare time to see the sights. Here's a typical travel itinerary for Reneau:
- Night before departure -- Pack for the next day.
- 5 a.m. -- Wake up to catch the first flight out.
- 6 a.m. -- Go to DFW airport. Wear business casual clothes to represent myself and the league I work for.
- 6:30 a.m. -- Get to the airport at least an hour before flight. Study rules and video on flight.
- 8 a.m. -- Get to my hotel and try to take a nap so I can be well-rested for the game.
- 11 a.m. -- Day-of-game meeting. This is when the officiating crew meets up to study rules, go over the weekly test and prepare for that night's game. Study the teams and dive deep into the Points of Emphasis (POE) sent out by the league.
- 1 p.m. -- Have lunch as a crew. This is where you start to build crew chemistry.
- 3 p.m. -- Work out.
- 4 p.m. -- Take a nap.
- 5 p.m. -- Get ready to leave for the game. We MUST be at the arena at least an hour and 45 minutes before game time.
- 6 p.m. -- Get to the arena for 8 p.m. tip. It's important to give yourself plenty of time to get to the arena because traffic and weather can vary.
- 6:15 p.m. -- Meet in the crew chief's locker room and start our pregame routine. We put workout clothes on and stretch. Everyone has a part, and we go over rules and the game. Almost everyone in the G League works college basketball or NBA, so we study the correct rules.
- 7 p.m. (one hour before tip) -- The table crew, security and game administrator meet us in our locker room to talk about protocol.
- 7:30 p.m. -- Put on my game uniform.
- 7:40 p.m. -- Go to the court. Crew chief makes sure the monitor works, and the referee and umpire administer the table briefing.
- 7:55 p.m. -- Captains meeting
- 8 p.m. -- Game time. Officiate, then have a 15-minute half time where we discuss any plays or necessary information about the game.
- 9:50 p.m. -- Post-game and stretch. Talk about key takeaways, but we watch plays back at the hotel during film breakdown.
- 10 p.m. -- Get done with the game and shower at the arena.
- 11 p.m. -- Get back to the hotel and grab food. This is when the real work happens. We all meet at the crew chief's hotel room with our computers to work.
- Film breakdown: This is the most important part of our job. We break down the game tape, go over pertinent plays, interactions with coaches and players, our floor mechanics and, if we are looking in the correct spots, presentation mechanics -- how we present our fouls. Everyone is open and honest. These breakdowns can last one to two hours.
- Film breakdown with management: We have a lot of management. They watch games and send people to games. If they watch the game, they will send us notes and we will have to respond to them. If they're at the game, they will come to our hotel room and we will break down the specific plays and interactions they noticed.
- 12:30 a.m. -- Go back to my hotel room to repack and try to go to sleep so I can wake up early and do it all over again!
Q & A
Jenna Reneau ('15)
What sports did you play as a kid?
I played basketball from first grade to senior year in high school and started to play year-round in third grade. I also played softball for a few years and ran track and cross country. But basketball was always my main sport -- I just loved it.
How do you deal with coaches, players or fans who don't like a call you make?
For coach and player interaction, I hear them out -- the key is to listen first, be honest and explain your call by rule. Fans I do not hear a lot, to be honest, because there are so many people yelling that everything is loud and when you're on the floor you just focus on the game. However, I really enjoy the fans. They are what makes working fun, especially when the arenas are packed. They add to the environment.
What's your favorite city to travel to?
I really enjoy warm places, especially if they're by the ocean. California, Florida and Phoenix are all nice to visit.
What's your favorite part about getting to travel for your job?
I love being in different places and working with a diverse group of people. My favorite part is trying new food. When I do get a little extra time, I like to explore the cities' history and landmarks.
What's something surprising most people don't know about referees or officiating?
How much work we put into our craft. We spend an abundant amount of time reviewing game film and studying rules. We have multiple meetings, including day-of-game meetings pregame and postgame. Referees put in time just like coaches and players.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Communication. Everyone's personalities are different. My goal is to communicate effectively with coaches, players, my crew, the table -- basically everyone.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Officiating a good game. I love the feeling of getting plays right and still being a part of the game. Basketball has been a constant in my life and I love it.
What do you do in the offseason?
Go to trainings, and critique and help less experienced officials get better. I love giving back, so spreading knowledge is very rewarding.
What do you like to do in your downtime at home between games?
Seeing my family and friends is No. 1. Because of our profession, we are away from home for a lot of holidays and events. I also love going to concerts.
What's it like for you to work in a male-dominated field (not just other referees, but being surrounded by male players)?
It's fun. I enjoy officiating some of the best athletes. Men or women, it doesn't matter -- we all love the game of basketball. When we're all out there, it's about basketball, not our gender.