No basketball fan wants to see a highly competitive, back-and-forth game decided by a late foul call. That's what happened in Friday's late-afternoon NCAA tournament first-round matchup between (8) Arkansas and (9) Seton Hall when a flagrant one was assessed on Pirates forward Desi Rodriguez with about 17 seconds remaining in the second half.
With Arkansas up one point and pushing the ball up against a full-court press, Jaylen Barford was delivered the ball and was pushed in the back with two hands by a trailing Rodriguez, causing Barford to trip over Rodriguez's foot as he fell forward and lost his balance. The call on the floor was originally a common foul, but was upgraded to a flagrant one after further review. Arkansas was sent to the line for free throws and maintained possession afterward, allowing the Razorbacks to seal a 77-71 victory.
Was it an unfortunate ending to a good game? Yes.
But was it an incorrect call? From the NCAA men's basketball rulebook, Rule 4; Section 15; Article 2.c.2:
A flagrant 1 personal foul is a personal foul that
is deemed excessive in nature and/or unnecessary, but is not based solely
on the severity of the act. Examples include, but are not limited to:
1. Causing excessive contact with an opponent;
2. Contact that is not a legitimate attempt to play the ball or player,
specifically designed to stop or keep the clock from starting;
3. Pushing or holding a player from behind to prevent a score;
4. Fouling a player clearly away from the ball who is not directly
involved with the play, specifically designed to stop or keep the clock
from starting; and
5. Contact with a player making a throw-in.
6. Illegal contact caused by swinging of an elbow that is deemed
excessive or unnecessary but does not rise to the level of a flagrant 2
personal foul (pg. 47)
There's a couple key points in this excerpt that justify Friday's call, even if it appeared Rodriguez had no ill intent. First, the rule dictates that a player must make a "legitimate attempt to play the ball or player." Second, it states there can't be any "pushing or holding" to prevent a score.
To repeat: The word "intentional" does not appear in the rulebook. You may intentionally foul someone. You may not two-hand shove the back.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 17, 2017
For further context, here's NCAA national coordinator of men's basketball officiating J.D. Collins' take. He was with the TNT crew to break down the play:
NCAA National Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating J.D. Collins explains the flagrant foul call at the end of the Arkansas game. pic.twitter.com/2nJvy6XGmu— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 17, 2017