Block or Charge: The Most Difficult Call in Basketball

They can it a “bang-bang” play.  It happens so fast.  But don’t worry.  No one is dead, but there are probably a body or two on the floor staring blankly at the refs as the refs stare at each other with the “did you get that” look of fear in their eyes.

The block or charge call is the most difficult in all of basketball, and maybe in all of sports.  Many variables have to line-up at the moment one player collides into another player, all which a ref must process to decide what gesture he makes.

Was the defender moving ?  Was his feet set?  Did the offensive player lead with his shoulder?  Did the defender come under the offensive player as he was landing?  Was the player outside the circle?  Do I count the basket?

Between the  first weekend of  the NCAA tourney and the NIT, there were plenty of games in prime-time, and refs have had to make the dreaded call.  Mostly recently was last night, Penn State playing at Florida in the NIT quarter-finals.  Side-Note:  the Gator crowd was rockin’ and was treated to a great game.

Late in the game PSU guard Talor Battle drove baseline, left his feet for a finger-roll, and Florida guard Nick Calathes set his feet and prepared for the hit while Battle was in the air.  What is the call?  The ref called a charge, but counted the basket.


There are a handful of variations of the call, this however, is the most idiotic variation of the “most difficult call” – which will be refer to as “the call” from this point forward.

The PSU guard made a good move, started his shot legally, but was called illegal because another player moved underneath him prior to Battle landing safely, which he could not do because a player was in the way.  But it must not have been that illegal, because the ref counted the basket.

Even the commentators were miffed by “the call” – granted they have the luxury of a second look at the play in slow-motion – and they made their options known.  Many commentators have been very vocal in this conversation.  I vaguely remember a Jeff Van Gundy rant about this topic a few months ago when ESPN swapped announcers, putting the NBA crew with Van Gundy on the Duke vs. Davidson game.

SideNote:  I was not a Van Gundy fan when he was coaching, but I think he is just crazy enough to be entertaining as a broadcaster.

The NBA has made steps to take some variables out of “the call”.  By putting the half circle on the floor, a couple of feet out from the bottom of the net and calling it the “restricted area”, the call becomes much easier.  No matter if the defender is set, if his feet are touching that line, it is a block.  Plan and simple.

In the NBA, almost every player can jump outside of the lane and land in that “under the basket” area and the possibility of injury is greater.  Not so in college.

Another important aspect of “the call” that is over looked is the defenders right to that same space.  To say that the offensive player has more right to that spot on the court is absurd.  yet, that unconscious prejudice affects the way the call is made.

If a ref is “bias” in that they believe the offensive player is dictating the action, then the call is simple, read the reaction of the defender to the action of the offensive player.  Depending on what transpires, the call is quite obvious.  But if you believe that the defensive player is predicting a move prior to the offensive move happening, then it is the defender who dictates the action and then the reaction.

That is an extreme simplification of the call, but is exactly what I found when searching for some definition regarding “the call”.  Take a look at this post from

The post from is dated 2001 and directory speaks to the ability for a player to land and even change direction when outside the lower box.  By that definition, the call against Battle against Florida was incorrect.  Even if he landed around the basket, his move was initiated outside the lane.  While this maybe be the rule in college, it does not seem to have that level of detail.  I did search for the NCAA rules, but what unable to find the rulebook online.

No matter what the call maybe, they greater issue may be the fact that “the call” varies greatly from game to game and ref to ref.  Which leads the the single most important trait in a referee: consistency.

From call to call, players and coaches are part of a guessing game to determine how the refs will call the game.  Every call leaves a small portion of interpretation, i.e. carrying, traveling, and three seconds in the lane.  But that amount of interpretation seems to vary great when the refs will allow a certain amount of physical play in the first half, but then could call a hand check in the second half.  And we all have seen it.

There have been many articles and quotes that have debated this issue to now end.  Yet, the block/charge issue is becoming dangerous. As players get stronger and faster, there is a need to limit the variation and solidify a standard that will stop the players looking for the easy charge (We won’t even go into flopping – whole other issue).

With greater concistency and preparation, payers will no longer be rewarded for sneaking over to anticapte the landing point of a player in the air.  Or an offensive player who lowers the shoulder, expecting a block call.  The charge/block is the call that needs consistency, period.  With a few, specific changes, “the call” will not be so difficult.

One thought on “Block or Charge: The Most Difficult Call in Basketball”

  1. Great article, and you are right toughest call in basketball cause you have to have had seen the WHOLE play not just part of it, and you have to have had been reffing the defense. High schol rules state that timand distance are not a factor…only that you have to have legal guarding position which is both feet on the floor and in in front of the offensive player…and then you can move laterally or obliquely to maintain your legal guarding position.

    With that said…there are WAY to many “blocks” called wouldnt you agree?…Great article, I was looking for one on hiw to get it right. Awesome job!

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