The Foul that Isn’t- Over the Back
We all have sounds that make our teeth hurt when we hear them. For some, it’s fingernails on a blackboard. For others, it’s the sound of a dentist’s drill, or maybe fingers being rubbed across the top of a balloon. I’m a bit different than most. For me, it’s the guy in the top row of the gym at a basketball game, bellowing, “Over the back
!!!!!” at the top of his lungs any time a member of the other team tries to secure a rebound from behind an opponent. I don’t know why it is that this bothers me as much as it does, but the fact is that it does. Moreover, in talking with my fellow officials over the years, I know that I’m not alone. Perhaps it’s because we can accept that fans misunderstand some rules, but we draw the line where they try and make up new ones to yell at us about. Whatever the cause, and as a gift to my brother and sister officials at Christmas time, I’m going to try to put an end to the scourge of the “over the back” believers.
I’ve been a basketball official since the day after my first child was born in 1985. My daughter, Brittany, was born on a Saturday, and on Sunday night I was sitting in the first of what would be hundreds and hundreds of basketball officials’ training classes, listening to officiating Hall of Famer John Howell tell me how little I actually knew about the rules of the game. Since then I have studied the rules books; taught new and veteran officials about the rules; and even lectured the folks who teach the rules throughout the state. With all of that study and experience behind me, I can tell you one thing without hesitation or qualification: there is no such thing as a foul for “over the back.” It simply does not exist. In fact, those words do not appear anywhere in the rule book. I know. I checked. First of all, folks need to understand that it is not illegal for one player to try to secure a rebound from behind an opposing player. If you are 5’10” and I am 6’8”, I am always going to try and reach over you from behind to steal a rebound, and doing so is perfectly legal. Even where players are of equal size, the player from behind will pretty much always try and snag a rebound while he is being boxed out. Sometimes he is successful, and other times he isn’t. And yes, sometimes, a foul is called, but it isn’t because he was trying to rebound from behind. An explanation may help here. Remember that fundamental principle that says “every player is entitled to a spot on the floor provided he gets there first without illegally contacting an opponent”? There is actually more to it than that. The “spot on the floor” to which a player is entitled extends from the floor all the way to the ceiling. That is my space, and once I am in it you aren’t allowed to do anything to push me out of it. However, you are permitted to reach into that space, again provided that you don’t illegally contact me. So if you can jump higher than I can, or if you can reach into my space to steal the ball without displacing me, you have done nothing that can be called a foul. That is one of the reasons that fouls aren’t always called when one player rebounds from behind another. The other reason is that it happens on pretty much every rebound. If we were to blow the whistle every time a player tries to rebound from behind, the game would be little more than whistles and free throws (and the accompanying bellows of “Let ‘em play!!!!!”
cascading down from the stands).
Remember that there is such a thing as incidental contact. If there is contact on a rebound, but the player with position is still able to secure the ball without being knocked off balance or otherwise adversely affected, no foul is going to be called. If, on the other hand, the player being boxed out goes through
the other player, actually pushing him out of the way to secure the rebound, then a foul will be called. But it’s not a foul for “over the back”; it’s a simple displacement foul. So, there you have it in a nutshell. “Over the back” is the basketball equivalent of Sasquatch and the Easter Bunny. Fun to talk about, but in the end, a non-entity. Remember, if you have rules questions or topics you would like to see discussed in this space, feel free to email or comment on our Facebook page. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!