For our younger readers let me tell you that it was Jimmy Valvono the now legendary North Carolina State coach who pioneered the strategic foul in the 1983 NCAA national championship game. While that was a red letter day for Coach V and NC State it was black day at black rock for high school basketball officials.
Coach Valvano popularized the “strategic” foul at the end of the game which brought his team back from certain defeat to a miraculous victory. The problem with that for officials is that every basketball coach alive now tries to do the same thing when their team is behind at the end of the game. And, it doesn’t matter if they are thirty behind with less than a minute to go, they still foul.
The challenge for officials is to know the difference between a “strategic foul” and an intentional foul. A strategic foul is one that involves illegal contact while legitimately trying to steal the ball, even though the underlying intent is to stop the clock. An intentional foul has the same intent, that is to stop the clock or keep it from starting, but it is done without playing the ball. It is done by grabbing the uniform of the player with the ball or grabbing him/her around the waist or by grabbing them with two hands.
The strategic foul is legal and condoned as a good playing strategy by the case book. The intentional foul is penalized by the awarding of two shots and the ball nearest the spot of the ball.
Often however, officials are reticent to rule poorly executed strategic fouls intentional, when by rule, they should be. The consequence is then that these fouls get more and more blatant at the end of the game and can on occasion cause hard feeling and possibly altercations.
Make them execute the strategic foul correctly and if they don’t rule the contact intentional. If the coach bitches simply say, “play the ball.”
HERE IS THE RULE
An intentional foul is a personal or technical foul that may or may not be premeditated and is not based solely on the severity of the act. Intentional fouls include, but are not limited to:
a. Contact that neutralizes an opponent’s obvious advantageous position.
b. Contact away from the ball with an opponent who is clearly not involved with a play.
c. Contact that is not a legitimate attempt to play the ball/player specifically designed to stop the clock or keep it from starting.
d. Excessive contact with an opponent while playing the ball.
e. Contact with a thrower-in as in 9-2-10 Penalty 4. 4.19.3 SITUATION D:
Late in the fourth quarter Team B is trailing by six points. Team B’s head coach begins to yell to his or her players to “foul, foul, foul!” B1 responds by (a) grabbing A1 from behind, or (b) reaching for the ball but illegally contacting A1 on the arm.
RULING: In (a), an intentional foul shall be called. In (b), a common foul shall be called as B1 was making a legitimate attempt to “play the ball.”
COMMENT: Fouling near the end of a game is an acceptable coaching and playing strategy. Officials must determine if a foul is intentional by judging the fouling act itself, not whether or not the coach instructed a player to perform the act.
The clip below illustrates a very poorly executed strategic foul that I think should have been ruled intentional. There was 49 seconds left and a 7 point difference.