Flagrant fouls have no place in the game of basketball

The flagrant fouls that hit Old Town High School basketball player Mitchell Cole Friday night and Houlton High’s Kyle Bouchard a few weeks ago have left some in the basketball community reeling as questions swirl over a perceived lack of sportsmanship.

That can be difficult to prove without the support of statistical research, but what is clear is the fouls are appalling and make those of us who have played and followed the sport for many years cringe in disbelief.

Those fouls have no place in the game and violate one of those unwritten rules of basketball of what type of foul is deemed acceptable when a player is going to the basket with an open lane for a layup. It’s a fairly common play to foul a player on his wrist to stop an open shot, but it’s far from common to grab a player around the neck — a clothesline tackle — and throw him to the floor, which happened to Cole and Bouchard.

The premise for fouling to stop an open shot is to make a player earn the points on the foul line, but it’s not something that I was ever taught by a coach in any gym in junior high or high school. Rather it’s something learned by osmosis through those organized practices and games as well as many pickup games.

A player learns those unwritten rules and one is to never injure another player on a cheap foul. Certainly, tempers will flare and some players will become overly aggressive at times due to the intensity and competitiveness of the games.

Some players have had moments they regret and I had my share such as grabbing a rebound in traffic and coming down with elbows extended or putting a hard shoulder into a screen. After those moments, however, you self-evaluate and realize you have to notch it down. Sometimes an older player, friend or coach will step in and hold you accountable.

This hopefully then leads to preventing the type of flagrant fouls Bouchard and Cole suffered, fouls that shouldn’t be committed and fouls that I seldom witnessed in many games that included hundreds of pickup games in the University of Maine field house that could be quite intense.

When these fouls do occur in a high school game, perhaps more could be done to stop them from happening again. Maine Principals’ Association protocol, followed by its  member schools, calls for a game suspension for a player ejected from a game.

The MPA is a big advocate of local control by its members and it’s up to those members, educators, many with advanced degrees, to appropriately address the incidents. One way would be to go beyond a game suspension and enforce at least a three-day school suspension for any athlete ejected from a game.

Another avenue could deal with prevention. Coaches, athletic directors and principals should do their best to monitor their players behavior in practices and games. If they believe a player is having problems, then address them and try to resolve them.

If that fails, then keep the player on the bench.

Joe McLaughlin

About Joe McLaughlin

McLaughlin (right) is a Stearns High School and University of Maine graduate who worked for three years at the Aroostook Republican and News in Caribou as a reporter and editor. He has worked on the BDN sports desk for 30 years, the last 18 as sports editor. McLaughlin and his wife, Kathy Schwigan, live in Brewer and have three adult children: Ryan, Matthew and Tess.