Mark Cuban and SMU Are Teaming Up for an Important Scientific Study of NBA Flopping

Taking a charge in basketball is an art, and it has been for a long time. A not-insignificant portion of high school basketball practices -- at least as of a decade ago -- are dedicated to training players on coming to an abrupt stop, setting one's feet just so, and falling as if they've been clothes-lined by a freight train. Taking a charge at the right moment can turn a game.

Charges used to be much rarer than they are today, and it's fairly widely acknowledged that the pendulum has swung too far in favor of the defensive player, who can draw a whistle by flailing wildly to the ground at the lightest touch.

The NBA has been cracking down on flopping this season, and Commissioner David Stern hopes to increase the penalties against players who do so. The $5,000 fine recently laid on LeBron James isn't much of a disincentive for someone making $33 million per year.

Complicating matters is the fact that it isn't always easy to discern who's faking it and who's really getting knocked on their ass. To help referees and league officials figure that out, SMU announced today that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is chipping in $100,000 to fund an 18-month academic study on the biomechanics of flopping.

"The issues of collisional forces, balance and control in these types of athletic settings are largely uninvestigated," SMU biomechanics expert Peter G. Weyand says in a press release. "There has been a lot of research into balance and falls in the elderly, but relatively little on active adults and athletes."

The release continues:

The researchers will look at how much force is required to cause a legitimate loss of balance. They'll also examine to what extent players can influence the critical level of force via balance and body control. They will also explore techniques by which the forces involved in collisions might be estimated from video or other motion capture techniques.

The research findings could conceivably contribute to video reviews of flopping and the subsequent assignment of fines, Weyand said. "It may be possible to enhance video reviews by adding a scientific element, but we won't know this until we have the data from this study in hand."

Of course, the best way to discourage flopping isn't to develop scientific techniques to sniff out flopping so you can more easily fine players. It's to raise the bar of what constitutes a charge, so it's either obvious to the ref or it's not. Take away some of the incentive and players will flop less often, especially when they keep seeing ball-handlers dribbling over them to the hoop.

See? Problem solved. But science is fun, too, so we endorse this collaboration regardless.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson