Disqualification Rule Turns Foul In Drama Of Playoffs Overtime


CHICAGO – The last time the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls stepped on the United Center court, amazing didn’t just happen, it took off its jacket and stayed a while. For 63 minutes, to be exact, in the Bulls’ 142-134 triple-overtime thriller that ranks among the most memorable of these or any other year’s playoffs. As Nate Robinson, Gerald Wallace, Joakim Noah and the rest pushed the drama to nearly four hours, those fortunate to be sitting courtside marveled at their drive and stamina …

… Except of course for Robinson, Wallace, Noah, Taj Gibson and Reggie Evans, all of whom got planted in courtside chairs before the outcome was determined. Each had fouled out at some point in overtime, and as they went, the balance of power shifted, from the Nets to the Bulls and back again in what was becoming a war of attrition rather than clutch moments or highlight plays.

Ultimately, let’s be honest, the power resided with the referees, whose determination on foul and no-foul calls became increasingly important. Brooklyn had to finish without its starting forwards. Chicago, already shorthanded, had to rely on its ninth- and 10th-men at the game’s most pivotal point. Even if that somehow added to the drama — oh, those 51 seconds of Nazr Mohammed in the third OT! — it hardly seemed like the true measure of the two teams.

And why? Because of the NBA’s disqualification rule.

Six fouls and you’re gone. Isn’t that wonderful when a fan has spent tens, hundreds or thousands of dollars on tickets to a big game? One or more of his team’s brightest stars winds up playing limited minutes and missing the biggest moments because the rule doesn’t allow any leeway for a game that stretches 63 minutes than it does for one of 48.

That’s just the most elemental problem for overtime games. There also is the disparity in how and when fouls are assessed. Playoff basketball is said to be more physical, so presumably what might have been a foul from November through March suddenly isn’t in April and May. Oh really?

We also know that some stars (usually theirs) never foul out and rarely come close while others (yours) aren’t accorded such status.

So what can be done to avoid such situations in the future, where a championship might be determined by somebody’s sixth foul and disqualification in a Game 7? Or, more insidiously, in some pivotal game of an earlier round that swings that series?

The NBA’s competition committee needs to look hard at the disqualification rules, with these possible tweaks:

  • When a game goes into overtime, every player who hasn’t already fouled out should be permitted one extra foul, bumping the max to seven. We give coaches extra timeouts in OT already. Going to seven fouls would be about right, proportionally, for a game of 53 minutes compared to six fouls in 48.
  • With the start of a second overtime, continuing until completion, a foul committed by a player who already has six fouls would not trigger his disqualification. Instead, the player would be allowed to stay in the game but his team would be assessed an extra penalty. A technical foul in addition to whatever free throws stemmed from the personal foul, for example. Or possession of the ball after the original free throws. It would be up to the coach to decide if the player’s continued services – and ability to play without fouling – were worth the risk of free points for the opposition.

No one wants to turn an NBA game into a hack-fest like the summer leagues, where the maximum for fouls either is bloated (10 in Las Vegas) or ignored entirely. Thus, the bonus penalties.

Still, there would be an added benefit to boosting the count: the referees would have slightly less impact on the outcome, compared to those games in which one or more of a team’s players is disqualified by fouls. That would thin the herd of conspiracy theories that emerge at this time of year.

Obviously, nothing is going to change this spring. But it’s worth considering over the summer.


  1. zamiLo says:

    With all due respect but I do not agree to you Steve. FOUL is an illegal move. That’s why it is called such. Six counts makes sense. The player is already warned 5 times. Say: Foul 1+2+3 = Techical 1 and Foul 4+5+6 = Technical 2 = Ejection. More fouls just give room for “more than physical” and dirty plays. In the heat of the game, it could bring the players more harm in a whole season just for the sake of an overtime play. Also, it does not change how the refs will call. In my opinion, this rule is set for players to defend the right way and not just to see the fans’ stars playing in OT.

  2. Big Al says:

    Fouls obviously involve contact and could shake, if not hurt the players they’re being done to, They shouldn’t be unlimited. If the league were to make changes in the rules, this isn’t one of them. It’s up to the player how he’s gonna use the six allotted fouls. Overtimes need to be taken into account, so if you’ve fouled out, then too bad.

    I’d much rather that they outlaw fouling players that don’t have the ball. The Hack-a-Shaq, Dwight and now Asik is a cheap move that banks on opponents not making the free throws rather than that team itself scoring proper points. Any such occurrences should be deemed as deliberate, awarding two shots from the line plus possession, just like a flagrant.

  3. ThunderUP says:

    There is no fastbreak fouling hence the clear path foul u get shots and the ball.Fouls r needed in the game of basketball obvisouly. 6 is enough in my opinon you shouldnt foul six times in 48mins and 53 is just five more minuits.now if the game goes two overtimes maybe just maybe another foul.

  4. Spud fan, gimmee more PT coach! says:

    I’d like to end the disqualification rule all together, and beyond 5 fouls just award one additional freethrow to the victim for each foul (or even a straitup one point, no FT needed)
    Agree with another Heat fan, fouls are a bad thing, and there should be no fast break intentional fouling. This should result in one FT and the ball back.

  5. Garifuna says:

    It sounded crazy to me at first, but granting and extra foul actually makes sense, however I don’t think a player should be allowed to come back in if they have already fouled out in regulation. They should make it so that a player in OT with five fouls does not foul out on the sixth, but rather his seventh.

  6. zgillet says:

    I think the one more foul thing is fine, as long as players haven’t yet fouled out. 2+ overtimes should be left alone.

  7. Hernan says:

    It´s basketball. The rule is perfect. If a player knows he can be fouled out and come back in court in OT, yop are giving more to speculation, than to playing fair good basketball. So a more talented or skilled team playing against a more athletic and hard playing team, would be diminished, Play fair, avoid silly fouls, shut players mouths so avoid technicals and give showtime. That´s what people wants, that´s what people is actually paying for, actual basketball.. If you can´t win in regular time, it´s because your team didn´t or couldn´t play well enough, not because of someone was fouled out.

  8. Another Heat Fan says:

    I disagree with this article.

    Good points but on the other hand if you want to play more than 48 minutes, quite simply you should not make 6 fouls.

    Fouls are not a good thing. It is not necessary to foul in the game. And when a foul is made on purpose (e.g. to prevent a fast break, or to force another inbound at the end of the game, or to make a poor free throw shooter miss some free throws) that’s just taking advantage of the rules of the game. It is one of the lows of the game if you ask me.

    6 fouls and you’re out, seems fair no matter how many minutes you play.

  9. RH says:

    Or you could teach/tell players not to foul. Much cleaner and fast paced game.

  10. Jaye says:

    No, on extra fouls. Teams should manage their “on pupose” fouls that slows a game down during regulation. If you take the game into overtime because you fouled the other team 4-6 times in the final minute, you should suffer being shorthanded in overtime.

  11. Not tired yet says:

    I have to totally agree on this one, we are never going to see LBJ or Kobe foul out in a big game or game 7. The role players become even more important in the extra frames when a solid pick to free a shooter or ever more important huge rebounds at crucial moments. I do not see how the NBA can ignore the issue much longer.

    • Noxzorz says:

      We are never going to players like LBJ or Kobe getting fouled out in big games, because they know how important their role is for the team.
      That’s why you sometimes see them slacking in defense in my opinion, cause you wanna play D as hard as possible, but there’s always a point where you are going to have to foul or let them score the basket.