We Need To Talk About Flagrant Fouls

by Fox Doucette

Flagrant fouls are, by their very nature, judgment calls, the NBA’s equivalent of yellow cards in soccer, and it is for that reason that we need to have a very serious discussion before we go any deeper into this season about them.

That’s right, I’m taking off my Nate Silver hat and putting on my Jeff Van Gundy/Charles Barkley hat, so strap in and hold on tight.

What sparked this was the NBA’s decision to upgrade Greg Monroe’s hit on Derrick Rose in Friday’s Bucks-Cavs game to a Flagrant 1. The game was on national television, so a whole lot of people saw it live:

Now I’m with Hubie Brown on this. That was not a flagrant. That was a hard foul and the horse-collar tackle was a bit of incidental contact. You have to take intent into the equation, otherwise players won’t be able to go up and block shots without running the risk of getting nailed with a Flagrant 1.

You want behavior worthy of the league office’s attention? Try Steph Curry chucking his mouthguard at a referee:

Here’s what the rule says—the NBA’s Rule 12, Section IV(a):

“If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary, a flagrant foul—penalty (1) will be assessed. A personal foul is charged to the offender and a team foul is charged to the team.”

That’s it. “Interpreted to be unnecessary.” And if the refs on the floor—this is not something that goes to the Replay Center in Secaucus—say it’s a common foul, that should be the end of it.

Sure, Cleveland beat Milwaukee in the Rose game, but we shouldn’t let the league off the hook that easily. If the refs call a flagrant foul a common or a common foul a flagrant, and the game ends within four points on the scoreboard (the free throw plus the ensuing possession), then “interpretation” just swung the outcome of a game and the league can’t change that by decree.

We need clearer guidelines here.

Let’s go straight to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary for people learning English as a second language, because it lays the definition out simply: “very bad : too bad to be ignored”.

If you can say “that was a hard foul, he was going for the block”, then you’ve just ignored the contact. It’s not “very bad, too bad to be ignored”, because you easily explained it away. Therefore, not flagrant.

It’s good that the league does ultimately review this stuff, because there’s a big difference between Marc Davis’s “let them play” ruling on the court and someone like Lauren Holtkamp pissing off Chris Paul. But if fans are to expect a consistently applied experience at games, the league needs to figure this out in a way that we’re not waiting until Saturday night to find out what kind of foul got committed in a regular-season Friday game in October.