Earlier this week, at its annual pre-draft camp, the NBA announced to teams that it will begin imposing fines upon players for ‘clear cases’ of flopping in the upcoming 2008/09 season. On Tuesday, in the Orlando meetings, the league showed some of the first tangible examples of its promise to crack down on ‘flopping’ in games.
Just to be clear, ‘flopping’ is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “throwing or moving oneself in a heavy, clumsy, or relaxed manner.” In NBA's case, this is exemplified by a player overreacting to some small contact (or even no contact) in the presence of a defender in order to garner a foul.
The NBA has not set a scale for the fines at the present moment, nor has it made any decision regarding escalation of fines for repeat offenders. Additionally, a ruling on possible suspensions for serial floppers has not been given, although there is a significant precedent if such a decision was made. Currently, the NBA suspends a player one game if he obtains 16 technical fouls in the course of the regular season (seven technical fouls in the playoffs), and suspends the player one game every other technical foul thereafter.
Spirited ’selling of the call’ has become a hot topic in recent years, as many foreign players have brought their style of play into the league. Fans have expressed their increasing displeasure in calls being given to players who flop, especially when the call has a significant bearing on the outcome of the game.
Yet, it is hard to predict what kind of impact this decision will have on the NBA. The current structure is one that places a lot of authority, and subsequently responsibility, on the referee. The league expects the right calls to be made in each situation, but realizes the inevitability of human error. When a player feigns contact and puts on an elaborate show to sell the call, the referee’s first instinct is to blow the whistle.
Fortunately, this fine system does not detriment the authority of the game officials, but rather the players themselves. Flopping certainly diminishes the credibility of a player and changes the outcome of games, so action must be taken. Fining the players is an adequate penalty, exemplifying the league’s expectation of fair play.
However, if the NBA decides to follow precedent and establish eventual suspension for repeat offenders, it would seem that the league would be taking their response too far. Suspensions should be dealt for situations that place other competitors in harm, not for intended feigning of a foul.
In nearly every other professional sport, flopping is a non-issue, except for soccer. In every World Cup, MLS, or Euro league match, a few players will sell a call by feigning injury or pain. It has become so prevalent that it is viewed as a part of the sport. No penalty is handed out to floppers in a match and play is continued after a short break.
It can be assumed that FIFA (the ruling body for soccer worldwide) would rather have a foul called in every case than ignore the ones they believe are "crying wolf," thus unintentionally missing calls that should have been made.
By establishing this system to fine players for flopping, the NBA has opened an issue that should have been left alone. Largely, the league is a self-governing system borrowing the ‘laissez faire’ ideology. Players adapt to the ebb and flow of trends and referees, who, though outwardly objective, are subjective enough in their calls to make up for their errors.
This last point is one that bears repeating—NBA referees may mistakenly miss a call every once in a while, which is to be expected from a human official.
However, they also purposely deny a call to a rookie that would be given under normal circumstances to a veteran of the league. This situation occurs routinely and is understood by knowledgeable spectators. Additionally, it could be expected that with some instruction, the referees could be somewhat subjective in relation to flopping.
While the NBA should have let the flopping issue be, except for a little instruction to the referees on the matter, since the league decided to impose a comprehensive system to deal with the issue, it should be noted that the right decision has been made in regards to how the system be established. Fines for floppers are a solid backbone for the enforcing of the NBA’s crackdown on the problem. Anything beyond that (suspensions) would be a vast overreaction to an issue that should have been left well enough alone.