The Florida Gators jumped to a double digit lead in the second half and maintained it for almost the entire half. They looked to be cruising to a victory. Then, the above play occurred, with just more than a minute remaining, after Marquette had scored to cut the lead to 6 points.
It was a potentially huge turning point. If the referees had called Kenny Boynton for a “flagrant 1” foul, Marquette would have received two free throws and the ball. It could have been a one possession game with just under a minute remaining.
Instead, the referees told Buzz Williams it was a “basketball play”, did not call a flagrant 1 foul for elbow contact, and Florida got the free throws for the foul that followed to stop the clock. Florida went on to win 68-58.
So, should it have been called a “Flagrant 1” foul?
The NCAA altered the flagrant foul rules in 2011, and part of the rationale was to remove “intent” from the call. The officials are not required to determine whether the player intended to make contact or had malicious intent.
Here’s the NCAA rulebook and what it says at 4-29-2-c-6:
A flagrant 1 personal foul shall be a personal foul that is deemed excessive in nature and/or unnecessary, but not based solely on the severity of the act. Examples include, but are not limited to: . . . Illegal contact with an elbow that occurs above the shoulders of an opponent when the elbows are not swung excessively per 4.36.7a.
There is an initial problem here. The initial definition talks about a foul deemed excessive in nature, and the other examples are things like holding a player from behind trying to prevent a score, excessive contact while trying to play the ball (such as a hard foul on a layup). Then, the “elbow above the shoulders” flagrant rule section specifically provides for a foul when contact occurs and elbows are not swung excessively.
There’s another part of the rulebook that applies. In a section called “Major Officiating Concerns for Men” it says in relevant part:
Officials are reminded that there can be incidental contact with the elbow above or below the shoulders; swinging of the elbow is required for the foul to be classified as a flagrant 1 or 2 foul. Some incidental contact is being penalized improperly.
How do we interpret all of this? I interpret it as (1) it doesn’t matter what intent was, and (2) as long as an arm is swung, and there is elbow contact above the shoulders, it is a flagrant 1, regardless of how serious or severe the contact is. It excludes incidental contact, and I would view that as what happened in this play in the Colorado State-Murray State game, which was reviewed and not penalized. The player is in the act of throwing a pass, and the defender closing on him runs his face into the elbow. Even that is borderline as to whether that would qualify as a swing of the arm, but I think qualifies as incidental contact.
So, here’s my thoughts on the Kenny Boynton play. I think it’s the type of play that should not be penalized as a flagrant 1, philosophically. Florida had won this game and that something relatively innocuous like this could swing the game in the final minute when Marquette is trying to foul seems unfair. I also think, as players are going to do with the way the rule is now written, that the contacted Marquette player embellished the contact.
However, contact occurred, even if not excessive. Boynton swung his arm back, and his elbow grazed the player’s face. So under the current rule, where no intent is required, and where the rule book specifically draws a distinction between “incidental contact” and “swinging the arm”, I thought that this was a Flagrant Foul 1 per the current rulebook. Marquette should have gotten two free throws and the ball.
And I can find no reference to the word “basketball play” in regard to the flagrant foul rules in the rule book.