In the United States, professional basketball, the NBA, opens its regular season tonight. That means at this time tomorrow there will be talk that some player 'flopped' - fell on the ground to draw a foul and get a chance at a free basket.
A new analysis has found that two-thirds of the falls examined by the group at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev were found to be intentional. And it happens a lot.
It happens so much because there is insufficient punishment for deception and teams are not doing the math. A cost/benefit analysis of "flopping" finds that 90 percent of the time no penalty is awarded, so as a strategy it is pointless.
The paper in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization determined that game referees repeatedly failed to penalize flopping players, even in the most flagrant cases of deception. "In fact, no warnings or technical fouls were recorded during the whole season that was analyzed," explains Elia Morgulev, Ph.D. candidate at BGU's Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.
Videotapes of actual decisions by referees in offensive foul situations from 501 plays during Israeli Super League games were shown to several professional basketball coaches and referees engaged as experts. "The experts could use slow motion and multiple viewings to make the call, so we compared their more accurate decisions to the game referee calls," Morgulev explains.
Referees were found to have almost always ignored situations in which the defender stayed on his feet after the attacking player bumped him, with only three percent of the 251 "standing incidents" called fouls by the referee. On the other hand, the experts, with more time to review options, judged that 23.1 percent of these cases justified an offensive foul call.
"The defender improves his chances of drawing an offensive foul to some extent by falling intentionally vs. standing," Morgulev explains. "However professional players and coaches should be expected to make a broader assessment of their decisions and refrain form myopic thinking that flops are the right course of action."
With the 2014 NBA season starting next week, Morgulev believes that flopping should receive a more significant fine or punishment. Even without harsher penalties, from a team perspective, it might be still doing more harm than good.
"Overall, the player is barely able to mislead the official and draw the offensive foul with a flop successfully in less than 10 percent of the time," Morgulev states. "So in the other 90 percent, the flopping player is simply left lying on the ground, leaving his team with four active defenders instead of five while the game goes on. Our methodical analyses of game outcomes in those cases reveal that flopping does more harm than good from the defending team perspective."