Saturday, January 7, 2012

HS Basketball Fouls Incorrectly Labeled Flagrant on Viral Video

Spectators, coaches and even players often second guess calls made by officials. Periodically—okay, frequently—these onlookers loudly make their opinions known through jeers, taunts, heckles and other uniquely sports-related behavior.

With each call sure to upset 50 percent of the enthusiasts gathered field- or court-side, accepting abuse is an inescapable necessity. Such is the nature of the beast, requiring officials to balance the distinct wants and whines of each side to ensure a fair game.

Officials must exist to perform this very intrinsic function—ensure fairness—and most commonly, complaints directed at officials imply that for one reason or another, one team is being treated unfairly.

Of course, these rules and regulations exist to assist officials in their primary role—ensuring player safety.

When a referee calls too many fouls, the official is accused of not allowing the players to play their sport.

When a referee neglects to call enough fouls or does not adequately address rough play, the official is accused of not ensuring a safe environment for the players.

Such is the case of a recent viral high school basketball video featuring an edited sequence of six fouls, called common or shooting on the floor, but labeled flagrant by the video's creator.

The video uses the words "intentional" and "flagrant" interchangeably, although these refer to two separate classes of fouls. Judging by the content and reception of the video, we shall infer the video's creator intended to use "flagrant" throughout.

For the record, per NFHS Rule 4-19-3, an intentional foul is a foul that "may or may not be premeditated and is not based solely on the severity of the act."

Rule 4-19-4 defines a flagrant foul as one "of a violent or savage nature ... It may or may not be intentional ... [and includes] violent conduct such as striking, kicking and kneeing."

Nary one second into the video, the creator makes a scathing accusation: "NONE (sic) of these [fouls] were called correctly be the referees. These are blatant flagrant fouls that should not be allowed to continue."

What follows are the six fouls, with no context provided other than the individual plays which contain the offenses.

Though all of these fouls consist of significant contact, not all are flagrant or intentional.

Per a group of highly-rated officials who regularly work the level in which the fouls have occurred, the following is a brief recapitulation of what the six calls realistically could have been.

A disclaimer: These are the opinions of several prominent officials of the sport in question and are not to be construed as sanctioned views of any governing body. These opinion were formed according only to the angle and context presented for each play and appropriately may have been formed differently if seen from a different angle or context.

Foul One: Common (Correct)

Assuming this play precedes all the rest, there is little evidence from this angle to indicate player W34 is not attempting to strike the ball. The contact does not rise to the excessive threshold specified by 4-19-3-d and was correctly ruled a common foul. The contact does not meet the threshold for violence specified in 4-19-4.

Foul Two: Common (Correct)

When R20 secures the rebound, W42 appears to play the ball by attempting to knock it loose with his left hand. The contact is not excessive per 4-19-3-d nor is it of a violent nature, as in 4-19-4.

Foul Three: Common (Correct)

When R24 begins his drive into the lane, W34 advances to meet him. R24 responds by picking up his dribble while W34 appears to stumble, his raised arm plunging straight forward into R24's head. Though an intentional foul might have correctly been called, the replay indicates an ugly play on the ballcarrier. The contact is not violent enough to merit a flagrant foul call, as in 4-19-4.

Foul Four: Double Foul (Incorrect)

This play was perhaps the most interesting to review. All assembled agreed an intentional foul may correctly have been assessed to W42, who employs contact that neutralized his opponent's obvious advantageous position by pushing R34, as in 4-19-3-a. Replays also indicated that R34 may have correctly been called for a foul of his own by illegally sliding over and positioning himself in front of W42. If a double foul were to have been called, play would have resumed with a throw in for Red closest to the point of interruption. No free throws would have been shot for the intentional foul, as in 10-Penalties-1c.

Foul Five: Flagrant (Incorrect)

The most overtly violent foul of the series, W34's clothesline hook around the neck of R30 was unanimously declared flagrant by our panel. This was a foul of savage nature, which involved a dangerous non-basketball type play. R30 could have been severely injured had he not landed the way in which he did.

Foul Six: Common (Correct)

Assuming once again these six fouls were shown in their correct order, the irony with foul six is that W34 would have been disqualified had foul five resulted in a flagrant call. Nonetheless, foul six is a common foul: Even with contact to the head of R34, W34 appears to be playing the ball and does not appear to employ excessive contact in the commission of his foul.

Final Report: Four Common Fouls, One Double (Includes Intentional), One Flagrant

In our Umpire Ejection Fantasy League, MLB umpires average 65-70 accuracy on disputed plays which result in ejection. If this high school contest were to be considered with these six foul calls being evaluated for quality of correctness, the officials would have received a 66.7 percent accuracy rating, well within the average range of contentious accuracy.

Be advised, officiating accuracy refers to all calls an official makes during the course of a contest and is significantly higher than contentious accuracy, which includes only those three-to-eight calls per game which have received a sizable amount of criticism.

In other words, this viral video reflects a typical trend of highly emotional eyewitness (including coaches and players) criticism: The officials get even their most controversial calls right an unequivocal majority of the time.

Though such viewers are occasionally correct in pointing out a missed call, the fact remains that by and large, this criticism is inaccurate.


Anonymous said...

Your analysis is ridiculous. Two examples: Firstly, part of your criticism of Foul One relies on an attempt by W34 to play the ball. Such an attempt is irrelevant to determining flagrancy. The definition of "Flagrant Foul" does not concern itself with whether there was an attempt to play the ball. Further, there is no "threshold" for violence in the definition. Whether or not it is sufficiently violent is a judgment call. Determining sufficient violence (flagrancy) doesn't require special knowledge or training, as you imply. The ordinary parent/fan is quite capable. Imagine thirty such attempts on the ball by W, and then imagine it's your kid taking the hit each time. If any of them are flagrant, then they are all flagrant.

Secondly, regarding Foul Four, you would have a point about R34 sliding over to screen W42 if he actually caused contact, but W42's two-handed shove preceded that, and precluded the opportunity for a double-foul.

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