A Modest Proposal: End Basketball’s Intentional Foul Advantage


Final seconds… inbound pass… Foul! Time for a commercial. (photo John Goering)

Alas, it happens every year. The football season ends, and we are forced to turn our attention to basketball. This is always a sorry development, no doubt the cause of many fans’ seasonal affective disorder.

Don’t get us wrong. Basketball has some fine attributes (genius athleticism, crowd close to the court). But it’s a deeply flawed game, one we watch with growing frustration.

The reason? Because of the accepted practice of constantly stopping the action in the final minutes when the game is at its most exciting. Boneheads.

Fouling an opposing player in order to stop the clock and regain ball possession is basketball’s curse, its Achilles heel, its Gallipoli on parquet. In what other major sport are players and coaches allowed to constantly and intentionally break the rules in order to improve their competitive situation? Especially in those final minutes, when the game is supposed to be at its most thrilling, the free-flowing, nervous-making, fast-paced action is repeatedly stopped stone dead by intentional fouls.

Compare the final minutes of a hockey game, where there’s rarely a situational advantage to taking a penalty, to those of a basketball game, which typically devolves into the institutional stop-and-start hack-fest, profiting only the advertisers, who love all those breaks in the action in order to sell us their low-sodium salsa dip.

The simplest solution would be to let the fouled-upon team retain possession of the ball after the free throw attempts, at least during a set period at the end of the game or half (we’re not a big fan of having different rules for different times of a game, but the need is urgent). This would open up play dramatically by removing the main advantage of the intentional foul: the ability to regain possession while also stopping the clock.

While we’re at it, let’s also reduce the number of time-outs to one per quarter (with none of this 20-second nonsense). This limitation, combined with the existing surfeit of TV time-outs, would still give coaches plenty of time to draw important squiggles on their dry-erase boards.

Or have you got a better idea?