During the 2011-12 season, a very vocal group of fans, writers, and concerned citizens waged an all-out war on a great scourge of the NBA landscape: flopping. The perceived problem was that so many players were over-selling and in many cases fabricating fouls that the form of basketball competition itself was suffering. Fans couldn't believe what they were seeing, and the cheating was too much.
The outrage took many forms, including the suggestion that players should be assessed technical fouls in games. David Stern spoke out against the problem, as well, and the league's competition committee discussed possible forms of enforcement, although they didn't end up voting on any proposals. The issue, it seemed, was that no one could agree on how to police an act that by its very nature blurs the line between deception and unavoidable contact.
The NBA believes it has reached a solution that will involve assessing fines to floppers on a postgame basis. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com was the first to report the story, and Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press has details:
Spokesman Tim Frank said Thursday the league is finalizing procedures to deal with flopping, the art of falling down when little or no contact was made in an effort to trick referees into calling a foul.
Frank said the competition committee met two weeks ago and discussed plans that would go in place this season. Commissioner David Stern believes too many players are deceiving referees by flopping and has been seeking a way to properly penalize them.
The procedures will likely involve a postgame review of the play by the league office, rather than an official calling an infraction during the game, Frank said. Players would likely be fined if the league determined they flopped.
The proposed plan mirrors a ''postgame analysis'' option Stern discussed after the competition committee met in June. The league already retroactively reviews flagrant fouls to determine if they need to be upgraded or downgraded.
On a very basic level, this proposal seems like a good idea, because no one wants obvious deception to play a part in what's supposed to be a sport of fair competition. When players fall with no contact or sell minimal contact to make it seem like a flagrant foul, it's bad for the league. Fans don't like it, and it's not the sort of thing that a league should want.
But identifying a problem does not always mean that an available solution exists, and flopping is perhaps the most difficult basketball-related malfeasance to police. On a basic level, it's often hard to distinguish between a flop and a legitimate foul — this is why referees often get the calls wrong in the moment, and why it's infeasible to have them dole out technical fouls for flopping while games are in progress.
However, it's just as difficult to decide what qualifies as a fine-worthy flop and what simply stands as selling a call so that referees acknowledge a foul. Flopping isn't a yes-no issue — it's more like a spectrum where some infractions are clear and others are far hazier. Any line between flops that deserve fines and those that don't will be arbitrary, because each viewer's conception of the problem will be different. Is all embellishment bad, or are some examples obviously worse than others? Will all infractions receive the same level of fine? How do you stamp out a problem that takes many different forms?
Plus, if the flopping epidemic is as widespread as some believe, then there will be dozens of examples for the NBA office to review on any night with a full schedule of games. Can one judge assess each call? Will fines be limited to marquee games when a critical mass of fans notices a flop? Will there be a group of flop judges or a sole arbiter of flop justice? If there are many, how will the league ensure consistent standards for fines? And are any of these solutions either fair or effective means of dealing with the problem?
These are not idle concerns. Because while flopping is bad for the NBA, it's arguably worse if the league as an organization hands out fines with no clear plan. When referees call flops incorrectly, at least they can blame the form of the act for their mistakes. The league can't point to a similar factor if its plan proves to be a mess.
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