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WNBA announces rule changes for the 2019 season

The league has simplified the clear path foul and expanded the definition of “hostile act.” How will the changes impact the game?

Seattle Storm v Phoenix Mercury - Game Three
Diana Taurasi led the league with 8 technical fouls in 2018 and was suspended one game. Will the new “hostile act” definition affect her?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The WNBA announced two rule changes this week that simplify the clear path foul and expand the definition of a “hostile act.” These new rules will go into effect during the 2019 season.

First, the explanation for the clear path foul:

Simplification of the Clear Path Foul Rule – The changes to the clear path foul rule establish “bright line” standards based on the position of players at the time of the foul while also narrowing required referee judgment and reducing the number of variables impacting the rule’s application.

A clear path foul is now defined as a personal foul against any offensive player during her team’s transition scoring opportunity in the following circumstances: the ball is ahead of the tip of the circle in the backcourt; no defender is ahead of the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity; the player with the transition scoring opportunity is in control of the ball (or a pass has been thrown to her); and if the foul deprives her team of a transition scoring opportunity.

Under the simplified rule, a clear path foul cannot occur if the fouled player is in the act of shooting or if the foul is caused by the defender’s attempt to intercept or deflect a pass intended for the player attempting to score in transition.

If a clear path foul is committed, the offended team will continue to be awarded two free throws and possession of the ball on the sideline nearest the spot where the foul occurred.

This allows the defenders to play aggressively in transition while only risking a common foul and giving up two free throws. The new definition is clear and concise. Under the old rule, referees had more room for judgment if a defender who was ahead of the play was able to influence a transition opportunity. This new rule removes any room for judgment which should allow for increased consistency.

The WNBA also expanded the definition of “hostile act”:

Expanded Definition of “Hostile Act” for Replay Purposes – For purposes of triggering instant replay review, the definition of a “hostile act” has been broadened to enable referees to determine the appropriate penalty for players or coaches if they are involved in hostile encounters with each other, referees or fans. (Under the old rule, the definition of a “hostile act” only included a player’s physical encounter with another player.)

This will allow referees to have additional access to replay when hostile encounters occur. As technical fouls increased this season from the previous season, it will be interesting to see if technical fouls and suspensions continue to rise.

Overall, the rule changes allow for more consistency. The referees now have some additional power to monitor behavior of players and coaches, though that may increase what Liz Cambage called the “softening” of the league.