The New Foul Calling Displays Some Worrying Trends

First of all, I'd like to preface this article by saying that I am a big ol' Tennessee homer so this will probably be filled with all sorts of UT biases. That being said, I also believe that a lot of people who are following women's basketball will agree with me that in some games the foul calling has been out of control.

As many of you know the new foul calling rules were put into place in both the men and women's game and the new guidelines indicate a foul should be called:

1. When a defender keeps a hand or arm on the offensive player.

2. When a defender puts two hands on the offensive player.

3. When a defender continually places a hand on an offensive player (they'll usually call this on the second time the defender touches the offensive player).

4. When a defender uses an arm bar to impede progress of an opponent.

These fouls are designed to reduce the defender's ability to impede the offensive player in the hopes that shooting percentages and overall points will raise. They also hoped that this would reduce the amount of physicality in the women's game, but I don't see it. As evidenced in the Louisville/Baylor game, most of the excessive physicality in the women's game takes place in the post, but these rules are more designed to help out guards offensively rather than posts and will usually lead to more hand checks.

Of course the new rules do nothing to address the even bigger complaint fans have about women's basketball refs: the inconsistency! In fact the new rules will make the foul calling even more inconsistent as it will allow for more variability and more variability usually leads to less consistency. I'm sure it will be great fun to watch certain teams and leagues get crippled in certain games just because they got the wrong draw from the ref pool.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a big Tennessee fan and in their first two games, there have been a grand total of 108 fouls called between Tennessee and the teams they played. In their first game against MTSU, 33 of those fouls went against the Lady Vols. Of the 9 players who played that night for Tennessee, 6 of them ended the game with 4 or more fouls. It was only due to a masterpiece of rotation by Coach Holly Warlick that Bashaara Graves was the only one of those players who fouled out. You can already see one of the irritating aspects of the new foul calling in that it disproportionately punishes teams that don't have a lot f depth.

The most frustrating thing about this is that Tennessee plays really good defense - they pass the defensive eye test, and they look great defensively. They have largely the same personnel as last year, and that group rarely got into deep foul trouble despite running with 8 players for a large part of the season. This team deserves to have good defense. They bust their butts on the court and swarm the passing lanes. Inside, Bashaara Graves doesn't have to guard centers any more, and she and the other posts shut down the inside game with their strength and good positioning. Over their first two games, Tennessee has held opponents without a field goal for an average of 6 minutes and 30 seconds in the second half, and they didn't start their season out with cupcakes. This is a team that has worked hard in practice and the off season. They deserve to reap the rewards of their hard work, but the refs take that away from them just because Massengale or Simmons or someone lightly brushed an offensive player when they tried to drive.

Coaches have had a fair amount to say on the subject. Coach Warlick has been playing nice so far and says that the team will have to watch film and adjust in practice. Other teams and members of the media have been more vocal, saying that the excessive foul calls are making a game that already struggles for viewership almost unwatchable. I would hope they take a big long look at this around the mid-season mark (they probably won't). If the foul calls haven't dipped a little closer to what they were last year once the players have had some time to adjust, then it's the refs and not the players and coaches who will have to bear the blame.

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