R.W. Basketball Breakdown: Understanding Unfair Advantage


Hey there Coug fans (and any other fans looking for knowledge on how a referee sees things), I’m back with another installment of Rulebook Wednesdays. With the NBA Finals nearly upon us, we’re going to switch it over to basketball for a few weeks. So let’s get to it!

On Sunday night I wrote a blog on the announcers criticizing the 3 specific calls during the Miami/Boston series in game 4. We also saw the plays on NBA.com as they were captured for the highlights. On all three of these plays the referees followed one particular rule of thumb: all fouls came from the school of thought that the player committing the foul gained something we call “unfair advantage”.

Unfair advantage is the predication of the majority of fouls or penalties in all sports. In basketball, when one or both players gain “legal guarding position” (which we will cover next week) they are then allowed to retain that position for as long as they so wish. The opposing player is then restrained from moving or running over or through that player. Off ball (which is any play not involving the ball handler and/or their defender), when any player “chucks”, “elbows”, “knees”, “pushes”, “shoulders”, “holds” or uses any other method to remove or displace the opponent from their position, he or she shall be called for a foul.

Unfair advantage can also be applied to the ball handler for both offensive and defensive purposes. A defender may not acquire unfair advantage by “hand checking”, “holding”, “body checking”, “grabbing”, “tripping” or by “creating contact that obstructs the free path” of a legal dribbler. Meanwhile, the ball handler may not create an unfair advantage by “hooking”, “elbowing” or by using “contact of a defender to create space”, such as using a shoulder or elbow to push off or running over a defender in “legal guarding position”. The dribbler may used incidental contact with their defender to create space, however they cannot make contact that inhibits the defender within their “legal guarding position” to gain an advantage.

These are important rules to know when it comes to beginning to understanding foul calls in a basketball game. But there are many other points that you need to understand. Next week we’ll focus on “legal guarding position” and “verticality” to continue your basketball breakdown of what to look for when you see referees call the game.


The Ref