Better late than never: NBA may finally get clear-path rule right
Why, you may ask, do I so often refer to the people who run the NBA as “morons”? A recent bit of good news illustrates the point. If I see a steady stream of similar reports, I just might rescind the label.
The good news is that the NBA's competition committee approved a rule change that will take effect in the 2006-07 season, if approved by the league's Board of Governors. At present, when a player commits a “clear path” foul — that is, intentionally grabs a player who has a clear path to the basket, the “penalty” calls for the fouled player to be awarded one free throw attempt, after which his team retains possession of the ball.
I wrote about this and other rules that reward intentional fouling back in December 2002, first for InsideHoops.com in an article titled “The NBA Needs a New Cliché: ‘Make him earn a defensive stop,’” and later for DallasBasketball.com under a different title. Here’s an excerpt:
Foggy thinking along a "clear path"
NBA bigwigs are so clueless that even when they created a special rule for the express purpose of penalizing one particular act that requires no skill AND deprives fans of a thrill, they devised a "penalty" that constitutes a reward! I speak of the "clear path" foul. When a player in the open court has a clear path to the basket and thus a near-certain two points, and a trailing defender reaches out and grabs him, the defender is "penalized" thusly: The fouled player is awarded a single free throw and his team retains possession of the ball.
As noted above, a sideline possession is worth, on average, one point, and a free-throw attempt .75 points. Thus, on average, the player committing a clear-path foul is SAVING his team .25 points! Announcers should call this preposterous rule by its rightful name: "The Clear-Path Intentional-Grab Reward."
To penalize a player for committing a clear-path foul that prevents two points and a thrill for the fans, award the fouled player and team three points. Make the penalty an actual penalty and refs will never have to invoke this idiotic rule again.
It's all pretty simple. If the league truly wants to penalize the rich variety of intentional fouls described above - none of which require skill or make the game fun to watch and play - it must impose penalties that penalize rather than reward.
Back to 2006, ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan reports, “The ‘clear path’ rule would be tweaked because statistics showed teams are averaging less than 2 points when clear path fouls are called. ‘The original idea behind the clear path foul was we didn't want them to occur. But now, when they do occur, the offended team is not getting the yield point-wise that they should be,’ NBA vice president Stu Jackson told ESPN.com.”
There you see it: Jackson and the league did indeed have good intentions. They, like me, wanted to put an end to clear-path fouls. But Jackson and the rest of the NBA “braintrust” were so darn stupid that they couldn’t figure out that a penalty is only a penalty if it penalizes. If they had applied the basic principles of third-grade arithmetic back when they first created the clear-path rule, they could have gotten it right. Well, better late than never. They’ve finally passed third grade.
Now Jackson needs to apply the same logic to all intentional fouls. He should also send me a big check for my valiant efforts long ago to point him and his fellow NBA bigwigs in the right direction.