Separate signals for intentional fouls and severe fouls
A hotly contested game where the near-flawless performance of the officials is keeping the spotlight rightly on the stellar play of both teams is a scenario that unfolds in countless gyms across the country on any given night during the basketball season.
But like in all games, lurking in the shadows is a play and a subsequent ruling that seemingly comes out of nowhere and brings the flow of skilled play to a crashing halt.
For this article, the play we will be dissecting – and offering a possible remedy to reduce confusion and lessen the chance for a volatile reaction – involves a ruling for an intentional foul.
It’s not hard to envision the quick hands of a defender (B-1) pilfering the ball from a dribbler (A-1) near the division line and quickly streaking to the basket, with the pick-pocketed player and new Lead official in hot pursuit.
Both players meet again at their apex about a foot above the ring and the defender’s hustle and skill are rewarded as he blocks the attempted dunk before making body contact with the shooter. They both crash hard to the floor with the echo of the boisterous crowd’s cheers, and the official’s whistle, ringing in their ears.
As the two players slowly gather themselves, the Lead official has his arms crossed in an “X” position above his head ruling the contact as an intentional foul.
And as natural as day following night, the head coach of Team A bellows:
How can that be an intentional foul!? My player blocked the ball!!
And there you have the dilemma – trying to enforce one of the two officiating interpretations from a word that has only one meaning.
Surely, everyone understands the definition of the word, “intentional” to mean, ‘done on purpose; deliberate,” and its synonyms, ‘planned, willful, and premeditated.’
But NFHS Rule 4-19-3 on intentional fouls also includes:
Contact that is hard and/or severe, and is not limited to what is deemed as a deliberate act..
There is considerably less protest on intentional foul rulings when a player grabs the jersey or waist of a player to stop a breakaway, or lunges and makes contact on a player near the end of a game with no attempt to play the ball and solely to stop the clock.
But when coaches and spectators of the offending/fouling team (in this example, Team A) see an official rule an intentional foul on what was almost a spectacular defensive play; that is entirely another matter and both parties will undoubtedly register their ill-informed complaint with you.
We believe the experience of officiating is enhanced when clarity reigns and players, coaches and spectators are able to easily understand a rule interpretation.
To that end, we therefore endorse adding a second signal under the intentional foul ruling to clearly delineate player contact that is deemed too physical for safe play.
To make that hard/severe distinction, we propose:
Lowering the crossed arm “X” signal from above the head and bringing it down to just above the waist area.
We believe this new signal would clearly show players, coaches and spectators that the ruling official knows that the contact was not a deliberate and premeditated foul, but rather a defensive play that resulted in contact that could be considered dangerous and too severe for safe play.
And quite often this new specific severe signal will be supported with one or both players writhing in pain on the court.
Please take a moment to voice your opinion in the COMMENT section below about implementing a second signal to clarify the distinction of your intentional foul ruling.