2016 Basketball Rules In my ongoing effort to keep local hoops fans informed and educated about the rules of the game of basketball, I thought it would be a good idea to give everyone some advance warning about recent changes in the rules that are going to result in more whistles this year, especially early in the season. Every year, the powers-that-be at the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations and yeah, I know, the acronym doesn’t fit) get together and decide whether new rules are needed to make the game better. At the same time, these folks take a look at how existing rules are being applied, and they issue “Points of Emphasis” for officials to consider. These Points of Emphasis simply highlight areas where the rules makers think officials need to do a better job. Most of the time, rules changes and the POEs have little obvious influence on how the games are called. This year, however, will present a different situation. Last season, a new rule went into effect regarding defending a ballhandler. Simply put, the rule identified four situations in which officials are instructed to call a foul on the defense: 1. When the defender places two hands on the ballhandler; 2. When the defender places an extended arm bar on the ballhandler; 3. When the defender places a single hand on the ballhandler and keeps it there; and 4. When the defender contacts the ballhandler more than once with the same or alternating hands. So why, you may ask, is this new rule such a big deal? The answer is that the rule eliminates the official’s judgment from the process. In the past, officials were told to call fouls when, in the official’s judgment, a defender had done something to put the offense at a disadvantage. Pretty much every foul amounted to a judgment call by the official. Contact, even significant contact, could be ignored if, in the judgment of the official, there was no real advantage gained by the defense. A good example would be someone like Steph Curry in the NBA trying to defend Shaquille O’Neal in the post. Curry could lean, push, shove, and do everything but hang on Shaq, and the big man would still be able to easily get to the hoop and dunk it. Lots of contact, but no real advantage gained, so no whistle. The new rule presents an entirely different circumstance. The question of advantage/disadvantage has been removed from the equation. If the defender puts two hands on the dribbler, it’s a foul. If the defender puts an arm bar on the dribbler, it’s a foul. No judgment is involved. That means that there will be many situations where officials may have held their whistles in years past, that will result in fouls being assessed this year. Adding to what I believe will be a significant increase in fouls called is the fact that this year, the rules makers have emphasized that the term “ballhandler" includes a post player who has received the ball. Take a minute to visualize what we have grown accustomed to seeing when a player receives the ball "on the block." The defense bodies up. There is always at least one hand on the player's hip. In most cases, there is an arm bar placed firmly in the back of the offensive player. In some circumstances, we have seen a defender step back and place two hands on the offensive player as if he were preparing to push a refrigerator across the floor. In the past, those situations were not automatic whistles. Again, the concept of advantage/disadvantage controlled. This year, the whistle will be blown. It may not seem like much as you read this, but believe me, it’s going to make a BIG difference in how games are called. All of these rules changes are designed to permit more freedom of movement in the game. Rules makers have decided that the game has become too physical, and they are moving toward restoring the movement and flow that fans enjoy watching. Unfortunately, to meet that goal, I'm going to have to blow my whistle a lot more this year. So, before you scream at me to "let ‘em play," please remember that I'm just following orders. Hopefully, the players and coaches will adjust within a few weeks. If not, it’s going to be a long season filled with lots of free throws.