Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What the Rules Actually Say: Blocking and Charging Fouls

The block/charge calls are always among the most controversial in college basketball. The plays develop so quickly and we’re left debating whether or not the defender was “set” or whether he was “still moving”. Unfortunately, the way these plays are called and our perception of the rules are quite different from what the rulebook has to say.

Here’s how the NCAA rule book defines blocking and charging:
Rule 4, Section 9, Art. 1. Blocking is illegal personal contact that impedes the progress of an opponent.
Rule 4, Section 12, Art. 1. Charging is illegal personal contact by pushing or moving into an opponent’s torso.
Pretty boring and uninformative, right? The question now becomes about what “illegal personal contact” is. We all already know (generally) what this means. Did the defender establish a legal guarding position before the contact was made or not? In practice, this is usually defined by whether or not the player was set or stationary, but the rules don’t actually say anything like that. Let’s look at what they do say about Legal Guarding Position.

Rule 4, Section 35, Art. 4. To establish an initial legal guarding position on the player with the ball:
a. The guard shall have both feet touching the playing court. When the guard jumps into position initially, both feet must return to the playing court after the jump, for the guard to attain a legal guarding position.
b. The guard’s torso shall face the opponent.
c. No time and distance shall be required.
d. When the opponent with the ball is airborne, the guard shall have attained legal guarding position before the opponent left the playing court. (Exception: Rule 4-35.7)
This Exception: Rule 4-35.7 that will keep popping up pertains to the new 3-foot “restricted area” underneath the basket. Secondary defenders cannot establish legal guarding position there. See below*.

Put more simply:
a. Both feet must be on the floor.
b. You must be “squared up” to the dribbler.
c. Legal position can be established right up until the moment before contact occurs.
d. You can’t establish legal position by undercutting a player that’s in the air.

Nothing is said about being “set”, “planted”, or even “straight up”. The only qualifications on the defender are two feet on the floor, squared up, and no undercutting. This appears to be a somewhat looser definition that our traditional one. But this only pertains to the original establishment of legal position. The rulebook goes on to describe how a defender can legally maintain his position, and we find that the defenders are afforded even more liberties here.
Rule 4, Section 35, Art. 6. To maintain a legal guarding position after the initial position has been attained, the guard:
a. Is not required to continue having the torso face the opponent;
b. Is required to have either one foot or both feet on the playing court (cannot be out of bounds);
c. May raise the hands or may jump within his or her own vertical plane;
d. May shift to maintain guarding position in the path of the dribbler, provided that the guard does not charge into the dribbler or otherwise cause contact;
e. May move laterally or obliquely to maintain position provided such a move is not toward the opponent when contact occurs;
f. Is not required to have the feet on the playing court when shifting in the path of the dribbler or when moving laterally or obliquely; and
g. May turn or duck to absorb shock when contact by the dribbler is imminent. In such a case, the dribbler shall not be absolved from the responsibility of contact.
This actually blew my mind at first because the game is called nothing like this rule describes. Specifically look at points a, c, e, f, and g. The defender…

c. MAY JUMP within his vertical plane.
e. MAY MOVE LATERALLY or obliquely provided the move is not toward the opponent.
f. IS NOT REQUIRED TO HAVE FEET ON THE COURT when shifting in the path of the dribbler.
g. MAY TURN OR DUCK to absorb shock when contact is imminent.

If a player does any of these things, he (or she) HAS MAINTAINED legal guarding position, and contact should be called as a charging foul. We never see this. It seems as though in the MIAA (I’m thinking men’s here) block/charge calls are extremely heavy on the block. You twitched your finger? That’s a block! I can’t help but figure that our officials are very, very wrong on this very, very often.

*Here’s the official rule on the new 3-foot restricted area:
Rule 4, Section 35, Art. 7. A secondary defender cannot establish initial legal guarding position in the Restricted Area for the purposes of drawing a player control foul/charge on a player who is in control of the ball (i.e., dribbling or shooting) or who has released the ball for a pass or try for goal. When illegal contact occurs within this Restricted Area, such contact shall be called a blocking foul, unless the contact is flagrant. (Exception: When the offensive player leads with a foot or unnatural extended knee or wards off with the arm.)
This restriction shall not prohibit a defender, located within the restricted area, from attempting to block a shot.

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