Calling for a Change in How Fouls Are Penalized in the NBA

I think that the rules for penalizing fouls in the NBA are fundamentally flawed. Let me explain. Increasingly, teams are using intentional foul as a tool. These are some of the ways they are used:

  1. Near the end of the game, the losing team often fouls the opposing team in order to get the ball back for a chance to pull closer. Here they are hoping that the opponent miss their free throws, or that even if the free throws are made, they can make a 3-pointer the next time to close the lead by 1.
  2. A new practice called hack-a-shaq is when a team intentionally fouls a bad free throw shooter on the opposing team, usually to prevent them from getting a better shot.
  3. Very near the end of the game, when the defending team is up by 3 or 4 points. The other team has say 20 seconds to make a shot. The defending team will sometimes intentionally foul even not in the act of shooting when the clock goes down to around 5 seconds. The logic is that although the opponents can pull within one with the free throws, they will have no time to get any closer because they would have to give up the ball after the free throws.
  4. The prevent-a-sure-shot foul: in any good defensive team, it is common sense that you should not give up any easy shots, and that means fouling intentionally is encouraged when you see your opponent on his way to an easy lay-up, dunk, break away, or just a routine shot by a hot shooter. Again, the defending team hopes that in sending the shooter to the free throw line, he may miss, in which case the opposing team would have gained fewer points. In fact, it's a duty of the players to commit these fouls in order to prevent easy shots in defensive minded teams.

What's the problem with this?

  1. It distracts from playing the real game, and slows down the tempo of the game.
  2. A high number of fouls adversely affect the spirit of the game, it encourages unsportsman behavior, and sets bad examples for children, not to mention the sportsmanship spirit of the nation/world as a whole.
  3. Fouls should be penalized, and in no circumstance should they be rewarded, but, judging from the fact that intentional fouls are so prevalently used, this is clearly not the case.

Regarding point #3. Let's take a look at how other sports handle this.

  1. Football: I am not a big fan of football rules either, but at least they got this one right. Fouls such as unnecessary roughness and face mask are penalized heavily - 15 yards - and they replay the down. Plus, the team that was fouled has the option of letting the penalty go if they happened to make a big play dispite the foul.
  2. Soccer: the team that was fouled gets possesion of the ball. You get carded for violent fouls which could put you out of the game. If you foul inside the penalty box the opponent gets a penalty shot.

Intentionally fouling is unheard-of in these sports because there is no incentive in fouling, and that's how it should be in all sports. The fact that it is not so in basketball reflects how convoluted its rules are.

What can be done?

I think that there's a very simple solution to this: we change the rules so that you always get the ball back after being fouled, whether or not you get any free throw attempts. All the above problems would be gone. Plus, as a result, we will have a much faster paced game.

Update: alternatively, we could take NFL's approach and make it an option for the team who's fouled: you can either take the free throw or keep possession of the ball.

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