Was That Actually a Foul? Let's Check the Official NBA Rules
Officiating in any sport is difficult. Add thousands of screaming fans and viewers from the around the world, and NBA officiating is amongst the most scrutinized in the world.
If you go to the official rules page of the NBA, the first thing you'll notice is that the rulebook is from 2019-2020. Each year, points of emphasis are added, but it seems a bit lazy that the NBA isn't prominently displaying the 2022-2023 rulebook. They do include a 2022-2023 Officials Guide for download, but 90% of it is referee profiles, with a few updates at the end.
On the flip side, the NCAA publishes a 2022-2023 rulebook, which is available for sale on Amazon. Ironically, though, the original listing was set up in 2019, so this is either the NCAA refreshing the product each year or a coin flip on whether you'll receive the updated rules book or a version from 2019.
Back to the NBA. In 2019-2020, the "coach's challenge" resulted in 44% of plays being overturned. For fouls only, in 2021-2022, 43.9% were overturned. The NBA had deemed this a success, but I'd argue otherwise. If a foul is called and less than 50% of the time, an entire coaching staff, with multiple replay views, can't correctly tell if it was truly a foul, the NBA needs to take a serious look at its rule book.
A couple weeks ago, this clip of Lebron James went viral. We won't debate his reaction, but objectively, the lack of foul call did change the outcome of the game.
As long as human beings are involved, calls will never be correct 100% of the time. While we all want to see officials "get it right," what we really want is a game with a good flow to it that isn't constantly being disrupted by whistles.
Is the definition of what constitutes a "foul" clear to officials, players, and coaches? It doesn't seem like it. The NBA would do right to create clarity here, with the Coach's Challenge number moving close to 100% as the #1 KPI to improvement.
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John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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