The revered Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is noted for having proclaimed, “the moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”
Now in the world of basketball officiating, the arc of fair play is shaped by how quickly and accurately referees can evaluate conduct that violates the rules of our great game, in particular, that which centers around the swinging or movement of a player’s elbows/arms.
With the growing awareness of the long-term impact of concussions and head trauma to athletes, the NFHS Rules Committee highlighted the concern and listed contact above the shoulders as a Point of Emphasis (POE) to start the 2012-13 season. The POE defined the illegal contact from moving or swinging elbows/arms to be ruled as either an intentional or flagrant foul. At the time, the POE made special note of distinguishing between excessive movement/swinging of a player’s elbows, and movement that is not viewed as excessive.
Positioning and judgment are critical components factoring into an official preparing to blow his/her whistle to rule on arm/elbow movement by a player; but it is equally important to know the parameters for ruling on what you just witnessed after you blow your whistle.
If there is no contact to an opponent, there is no foul to consider, so you are evaluating whether the arm/elbow movement is normal or excessive…If it is a normal basketball movement, you should let play continue. If you deem the movement to be excessive, you should rule the action to be a violation.
Speed of the arm movement, perhaps the proximity of an opponent, and a quick assessment of the player’s demeanor, can be two helpful guidelines to use in determining if the player’s arm/elbow movement warrants a whistle.