Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Close Call of Week: Hand Part of Basket—Not Base—Ball

When is the hand considered part of the ball; when can a player handle the game ball or puck? It all depends on which sport you are playing; in most cases off the hardwood, the hand is decidedly not part of the ball.

Baseball - Hand is Not Part of the Ball (Hand is Not Part of the Bat)
This most often comes into play during a plate appearance and hit-by-pitch situations wherein a pitched ball strikes (a) the batter's hand or (b) the bat itself. In (a), the batter is awarded first base without liability to be put out unless he has attempted to strike the pitch, in which case a dead ball strike is ruled (if strike three, the batter is out), or he has not attempted to avoid being touched by the ball, in which case a dead ball ball is ruled, or the pitched ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, in which case a dead ball strike is ruled, while in (b), the ball is ruled foul. Rule 6.08(b) awards the batter first base by virtue of becoming a runner and entitlement to the base when "he is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit," subject to the above conditions. On defense, the hand is likewise not considered part of the ball while possessing it but is simply deemed a body part capable of catching or holding a ball.

Basketball - Hand is Part of the Ball (when in contact with the ball)
This mid-December Close Call of the Week examines a recent foul non-call during an NBA game that ultimately resulted in the ejection of Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown for his excessive campaign for a foul call (see NBA Ejections: McCutchen, Forte, Wright). Replays indicate that as the offensive player attempted to shoot the basketball, the defensive player's hand contacted the shooter's hand while in contact with the ball. Foul or no foul?

All rules codes agree. Whether NFHS, NCAA or NBA/FIBA, the hand is considered "part of the ball" when it is in contact with the basketball, as in a shot attempt. The NFHS rule book, for instance, reminds us of a very important basketball feature in its definitions section pertaining to incidental contact: "The mere fact that contact occurs does not constitute a foul" (NFHS 4-27-1 & NBA Comments on the Rules II-A-1). In this situation, it is specifically legal for a defender to use the hands to reach to block or slap the ball controlled by an offensive player and "accidentally [hit] the hand of the opponent when it is contact with the ball (NFHS 4-24-2). The NBA specifically expands on this point in its "Comments on the Rules" section: "The hand is considered “part of the ball” when it is in contact with the ball. Therefore, contact on that hand by a defender while it is in contact with the ball is not illegal" (II-A-1).

Football - Hand is Not Part of the Ball
In American and Canadian football, the hand is afforded special privileges that only the feet share (e.g., a hand or foot may touch the ground and the ballcarrier is not considered down [NFHS/NCAA] or down by contact [NFL]), though may not be used solely to establish inbounds status (NFL Rule 3-2-6). The hand is used to establish player possession (3-2-7), or to hand off the ball yet no rule exists prohibiting contact with the hand, as inter-squad contact is allowed in this sport.

Hockey - Hand is Not Part of the Puck (penalties for certain extended contact / checks legal)
Though the sport only uses a ball in its "field" and "roller" incarnations, the ball or puck for ice hockey is separate and distinct from the player's hand (or glove). Hockey allows batting of the ball or puck with the open hand, but a glove pass and—except for the goalie —covering or closing the hand over the puck is generally illegal. A player can catch the puck out of mid air, provided the player immediately places or knocks it down to the ice. Skating with the puck to avoid a check or gain territorial advantage results in a minor penalty for closing the hand (NHL 67.1). When the penalty occurs in the goal crease area, a penalty shot shall be assessed or a goal awarded (NHL 67.2, 67.4, 67.5). Checks are legal in hockey for those in possession or playing the puck, but contact with the hand is not distinguished.

Soccer (Football/Futbol) - Hand is Not Part of the Ball (except for goalkeepers, is generally illegal use)
Because the use of hands is generally prohibited in this sport save for throw-in situations (deliberate handling of the ball except for the keeper in the penalty area results in a direct free kick / it is a send-off [red card] offense if it denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity [DOGSO]), it is clear the hand is not part of the ball (FIFA Law 12). As for goalkeepers attempting to play a loose ball at the same instant an attacking player attempts to kick or deflect the ball, Law 12 simply states, "when a goalkeeper has gained possession of the ball with his hands, he cannot be challenged by an opponent." Because a goalkeeper generally attempts to secure possession through the use of the hands/torso/neck/head area, it may be considered "playing in a dangerous manner...that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone," which is an offence (Law 12). A goalkeeper illegally handling a ball in the penalty area by virtue of a >six-second possession, touching the ball again with the hands after releasing from possession, touching the ball with hands after a deliberate kick or throw-in from a teammate results in an indirect free kick (Law 12).


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