Peter Webb has been an IAABO (International Association of Approved Basketball Officials) basketball official for 44 years. Webb has officiated at the high school level (28 years) and collegiate level (32 years). He is a Past President of IAABO, has served as the Director of IAABO Officals' Schools throughout the USA and Germany. Webb just completed 16 years as the Maine State Commissioner of Basketball. He is a member of the State of Maine Sports Hall of Fame and was recently selected as an inductee to the NFHS National Hall of Fame.
Ray McClure has been officiating for more than 20 years, beginning locally in the middle school, then has continued on through the high school ranks, college basketball and ABA Pro basketball. He has developed the "Five-Star Basketball Official's Program," which includes classroom teaching, on the court training, with full rules and mechanics knowledge.
In today's "basketball world," we find various "approaches," "guidelines" and "versions," by which officials are being instructed to "call the game." Some have even gone so far as to create their own "philosophy"...their own "unique way" to "call the game.”
One would like to hear the leaders instruct everyone to "call the game by the rules". Instead...we hear officials making statements like:
- "I wouldn't have called that."
- "I would have passed on that."
- "The game didn't need that call."
- "The game needed a foul called there."
- "If it's a foul on this end, let's make sure it's a foul on the other end."
- "He's not bothering me while he's out of the coaching box."
- "Let's make sure the fifth foul is a good one."
- "The coach is not going to like that."
- "Let's keep an eye on the foul counts."
And the justifying and rationalizing comments continue. When leaders of organizations or individuals feel it necessary to create their own "version" by which to "call the game," one would have to question either their rules knowledge or their willingness to abide by the rulebook itself. Where are the instructions to simply "call the game by the rules of the game"? Where are the instructions to "care about the game" and "honour the codes" by which the basketball official is to be measured?
All too often, instructors, interpreters and/or supervisors teach that violations are to be called by the rules, but that rulings concerning contact are to be a "personal" thing, or an organization's "philosophical" approach. Is it any wonder coaches often ask officials, "How are you calling hand-checking tonight?" "How are you going to call over-the-back?" "How are you calling 3-seconds?" But they never find it necessary to ask, "How are you calling out-ofbounds?”
The purpose here is to make it clear, just as various rules bodies have done: "The rules pertaining to contact are just as rules-based as those pertaining to violations." They are very clear as to what contact is illegal and what contact is legal. Some may be surprised to learn that legal contact even has a name: "incidental" contact. Sometimes the most severe contact in the game is incidental, while at other times the slightest touch is a foul ... by rule!
THE RULES OF CONTACT
A foul is defined in Article 32.1.2 as "An infraction of the rules, concerning illegal personal contact with an opponent and/or unsportsmanlike behaviour." Officials can easily recognize these infractions provided they know the rules which pertain to contact.
There are several types of fouls, but all fouls are categorized as either personal or technical.
- A personal foul is a player's contact foul with an opponent, whether the ball is live or dead.
- A technical fouls is a player's non-contact foul of a behavioural nature, or a foul by a coach, assistant coach, substitute or team follower.
Incidental (legal) contact is permitted by rule and is therefore not to be ruled as a foul. Please don't refer to it as "Common Sense Officiating"; it is "incidental contact", and is covered in a rule. FIBA acknowledges an awareness of the reality of incidental contact in Article 32.1.1: "During a game in which ten (10) players are moving at speed in a limited space, personal contact cannot be avoided." As previously stated, it is possible that the strong contact in a game could be ruled as incidental, depending on the circumstances of that contact.
- Included among examples of contact that would normally be judged as "incidental" are situations such as:
- Unintentional contact in attempting to reach a loose ball.
- Contact that occurs when opponents are in equally favorable positions to perform normal game movements.
- Contact which does not hinder the opponent from participating in normal game movements.
- Contact which is created as a result of a "blind screen", provided the contact doesn't cause traveling.
Additional support that the rules of the game are well-written as they define and describe what is legal contact and what is illegal contact, is documented in Articles 32 – 39. These articles provide a very detailed description of contact that is an infraction of the rules and therefore a foul.
CONTACT BY THE DRIBBLER
The rules of contact apply to a dribbler in the same way as they apply to any other player. A dribbler is not permitted to:
- Charge into an opponent.
- Contact an opponent in his/her path.
- Attempt to dribble between an opponent and a boundary line, unless there is enough space to avoid contact.
- Attempt to dribble between two opponents, unless there is enough space to avoid contact.
CONTACT BY THE SCREENER
Likewise, the principles involving legal and illegal contact also apply to a player, who is setting a screen. A player, who screens, shall not:
- Set a "blind screen" closer than one normal step.
- Make contact with the opponent when setting a "visual screen".
- Set a screen so close to a moving opponent that the moving opponent cannot stop or change directions.
- Move to maintain a screen.
If a screener violates any of these provisions and contact occurs which is not incidental, he/she has committed a personal foul.
CONTACT BY THE SCREENED PLAYER
The following guidelines apply to a player who is being screened:
- A player, who is screened, with a "visual screen" is expected to avoid contact.
- A player, who is screened, with a "blind screen" is permitted to make inadvertent contact with the screener. However, the screened player, upon contact, is to stop or attempt to stop.
- The screened player is not permitted to force his/her way through a screen by using arm(s), hand(s), hip(s), or shoulder(s), or by holding the screener and then pushing the screener aside in order to maintain a guarding position.
GUARDING IS WELL-DOCUMENTED BY RULE
In learning the principles and guidelines pertaining to contact, officials are required to also know the rules, which describe in detail what the defender and the offensive player are permitted to do during a guarding situation. When officials apply these basic principles, their rulings are not only consistent, but consistently correct.
Four basic principles apply.
- "Guarding is the act of LEGALLY placing the body in the path of an offensive opponent.."
- "There is no minimum distance required between the guard and opponent.."
- "Every player is entitled to a spot on the playing court, providing such player gets there first, without illegally contacting an opponent."
- "A player who extends an arm, shoulder, hip or leg into the path of an opponent, is NOT considered to have a legal position if contact occurs."
"ESTABLISHING" A LEGAL GUARDING POSITION IS COVERED BY RULE
To establish an initial legal guarding position, the player taking that position must be facing his/her opponent and have both feet on the floor. This could occur "at the last split second," before contact. The assumption is that the guard got to that "spot" on the court without fouling anyone in order to get there.
MAINTAINING A LEGAL GUARDING POSITION IS COVERED BY RULE
The rules are very clear as to what a guard is permitted to do or not do after establishing the legal guarding position. The guard:
- May legally have one or both feet on the court or in the air when contact occurs.
- Is not required to continue facing the opponent.
- May move in any direction, with one exception: he/she cannot be moving toward the opponent when contact occurs.
- May turn or duck to absorb the shock of imminent contact.
Therefore, officials must know that after establishing the guarding position and while in the maintaining mode, the guard can do anything except one: cause the contact. In each block/charge contact situation, the covering official must ask, "Did the guard do anything wrong?" If not, then by rule the foul should not be charged to the defender.
Officials monitor the activities of everyone involved in the game and make rulings based on these activities. The question is: "How can officials consistently make accurate rulings on rules they don't know?" Answer: They can't.
Every time contact occurs, the covering official makes a decision. Sometimes that decision is accompanied by a whistle and sometimes it requires no whistle. This latter situation is incidental contact. Either way, with or without a whistle, the official has never the less made a ruling.
This ruling can be (and must be) based on the rules of the game. The official is not there to just "simply pass judgment," but to rule accurately. When officials know the rules, accurate rulings will more often be the consistent end result.
Therefore, officials must know the rules and enforce them, and refrain from any personal philosophies not substantiated by a rule. Everyone involved in the game must know that violations and contact rulings are all rule-based.
When it comes to violations and contact rulings, call the game by the rules.