Since reports surfaced last week that the NBA was set to fine players for flopping, many fans and observers, including me, have wondered exactly how the league would set about policing these actions. Those rules and standards would go a long way towards defining exactly what the NBA thinks of flopping and why they’re concerned with regulating it.
On Wednesday, the NBA unveiled its definition of flopping and their fine structure in response to them. From the official press release:
“Flopping” will be defined as any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player. The primary factor in determining whether a player committed a flop is whether his physical reaction to contact with another player is inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact. Physical acts that constitute legitimate basketball plays (such as moving to a spot in order to draw an offensive foul) and minor physical reactions to contact will not be treated as flops.
Any player who is determined to have committed a flop during the regular season will be subject to the following:
Violation 1: Warning
Violation 2: $5,000 fine
Violation 3: $10,000 fine
Violation 4: $15,000 fine
Violation 5: $30,000 fine
If a player violates the anti-flopping rule six times or more, he will be subject to discipline that is reasonable under the circumstances, including an increased fine and/or suspension.
There is much to analyze here, so let’s start with the definition itself. As I noted on Tuesday, a flop can be defined narrowly (pretending contact exists where there was none) 0r quite broadly (any embellishment that emphasizes contact beyond a basic physical reaction). A strict interpretation of this definition suggests the NBA has gone with the latter approach. If the reaction is “inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected” then the play will be a flop. (Never mind that those expectations could differ among reasonable judges.) Based on the amount of times that NBA players embellish contact in a regular game, the NBA would be set to levy many fines over the course of this season.
However, the fine structure itself indicates that they won’t be fining with much regularity. Six instances of embellishment is relatively few, especially for defenders like Shane Battier or offensive players like Manu Ginobili who fall to the ground and flail their arms while driving several times per game. So, unless the NBA wants to start handing out suspensions a month or two into the season, they likely won’t be policing flops very often. As a point of comparison, the league already suspends players for one game on their 16th technical foul of the regular season (plus another game-long suspension for every two techs after that). Over the course of a season, only a handful of players will see that penalty. If the flopping rules punish a similar number of players, then there’s no way that the NBA can crack down on flopping (again, defined broadly) without drastically changing the structure of competition.
The approach, then, is expansive in theory but likely limited in practice. On top of that, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that the NBA is unlikely to announce fines as they are handed out, instead posting a running tally of infractions. Anyone who wants to figure out the specific flops will have to reverse-engineer the totals and guess at which specific plays were deemed fine-worthy. (It’s as yet unclear what that means for the players’ appeals process.) So not only will fines be irregular — the NBA won’t even announce them in an effort to shame floppers in public.
The difficulty here is in figuring what the NBA has to gain from this particular system. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop has smartly pointed out that the existence of these penalties will at least curb the embarrassment that flopping brings to the league, but it also won’t embarrass particular floppers. So, in all likelihood, these flopping rules will help show that the NBA cares about the issue without really doing much to curb the practice. It’s a public relations move, first and foremost.
The problem with that approach is that, if certain people don’t like flopping, they aren’t going to stop decrying it simply because the NBA has minor rules in place. (I find flopping to be a minor issue that doesn’t majorly affect my enjoyment of the sport, but I certainly understand that others feel differently.) If flopping persists, then people will continue to notice it, no matter how often the NBA points to its rules as an effort to combat the activity.
NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter stated that, “The NBA is not permitted to unilaterally impose new economic discipline against the players without first bargaining with the union. We believe that any monetary penalty for an act of this type is inappropriate and without precedent in our sport or any other sport. We will bring appropriate legal action to challenge what is clearly a vague and arbitrary overreaction and overreach by the Commissioner’s office.”
The Players Association will file its grievance with the NBA league office and its unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
Postgame flopping penalties were initially brought up by the league’s competition committee, which includes players, only for it to decide that those discussions should be tabled for this upcoming season. By instituting these fines as postgame infractions, the NBA might have a technically sound argument for their actions (i.e., they’re not exactly affecting the game as it’s played on the court), but there is certainly a debate to be had over the issue.