Can You Review a Foul in Basketball? (2021 Update)


Throughout a basketball game a referee is bound to make a few foul calls that are wrong.  Sometimes these calls have a huge impact on the outcome of the game, which can be very frustrating to a team and its fans.  Now that basketball has instant replay available you may be wondering if they can review these fouls.  Can you review a foul in basketball? 

In general, no, most fouls in basketball are not reviewable. A common foul in basketball can’t be overturned by video replay even if it is obvious the foul did or didn’t occur. 

There are a few exceptions where referees can use video replay to review specifics surrounding a common foul (like who the foul was on etc), but they cannot use the replay to actually overturn a common foul call.

In this article let’s discuss the review process for both the NBA and college basketball, and highlight when the review process can be used in regards to fouls.

can-you-review-a-foul-in-basketball

Can you review a foul in the NBA?

In general, the NBA doesn’t allow referees to review common fouls.  That means that if your team got whistled for a bogus foul, unfortunately replay review will not be possible.

There are a few exceptions to this depending on situation. When a common foul is called, the referees can review:

  • If the foul occurred before or after the game time ran out
  • If the foul occurred before or after the shot clock ran out
  • If the player being fouled stepped out of bounds before the foul occurred
  • The timing of an off-ball foul occurrence (to see if it occurred before or after the shot)
  • Which player committed the foul
  • Which player should be shooting free throws
  • If the fouled player was shooting a 2 or 3 point try when getting fouled

Notice out of all of those scenarios that can be reviewed, what is not included in the list of things that can be reviewed is whether or not the foul call itself was correct or not. NBA referees cannot use instant replay to go back and review whether or not the foul call was correct.

A common foul cannot be called on the court, then overturned via replay. This helps keep the pace of the game moving forward, but it most definitely can cause frustration among players and fans when calls are missed in big moments.

The list above included all the scenarios where a referee can use instant replay to review issues surrounding a common foul. There are other types of fouls in the NBA that can use replay (source). These include:

  • Flagrant Fouls – Review process can be used to determine if a foul should be flagrant or common foul.
  • Clear Path Fouls – Review process can be used to determine if a foul should have been called a clear path foul.
  • Restricted Area Fouls – Review process can be used to determine if a foul occurred in the restricted area or not. **This can only be reviewed in last 2 minutes of 4th quarter and overtime

One of the most common types of review scenarios in the NBA is for flagrant fouls. Let’s take a closer look at how they are handled.

Flagrant Foul Review Process

A Referee may call a foul on a player but then decide he or she needs to take another look at it to see if it should be called a flagrant foul or just a common foul.  This is reviewable and is a very common occurrence during NBA games.

The referee will have the decision to leave the foul as a common foul, upgrade it to a flagrant 1 foul, or upgrade it to a flagrant 2 foul.   If you are wondering what a flagrant foul is, the NBA defines it as a foul where a player commits contact with another player that is excessive, intentional or unnecessary.  There are two types of flagrant fouls:

  • Flagrant 1 fouls are where a player makes contact that is deemed unnecessary. 
  • Flagrant 2 fouls are where a player makes contact this is excessive or intentional. 

When flagrant fouls are called, the team that was fouled is awarded 2 free throws and given possession of the ball.  If a player commits a flagrant 2 foul, they are automatically ejected from that game, and will likely face fines from the league. 

If a player only commits one flagrant 1 foul, then they can still play in that game.  If they commit two flagrant 1 fouls in the same game they will be ejected.  Each flagrant foul will also likely mean they will get fined from the league. Suspensions are also a possibility for flagrant fouls.

Clear Path Review Process

In the NBA, the league tries to limit players from purposely fouling to stop fast break opportunities.  They do this by calling a clear path foul. 

A “clear path” foul is where a defender fouls to prevent a fast break and they are the last defender between any offensive player and the basket.  The Clear Path foul is in place to prevent players from fouling on a fast break when the other team is going to score an easy basket. 

NBA referees can use instant replay to review whether or not the defender was between the offensive player and the basket and whether or not the foul should be a clear path foul or a common foul. 

If any offensive player is ahead of the last defender who commits the foul, then a clear path foul is called.  If the referee determines that a clear path foul has occurred, then the offensive team will get to shoot 2 free throws and retain possession of the basketball.

Restricted Area Foul Review Process

The NBA has a restricted circle that has certain rules to keep play around the basket safe and free of defenders.  There is a half circle painted on the court and the defenders know that inside of that line is the restricted area.

We have an entire article dedicated to the Restricted Area in Basketball. As far as fouls go, off-ball defenders are not allowed to take a charge if any part of their body is touching or inside the restricted circle line (including above it). 

When there is a block or charge called in the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter or overtime, and the referee made the decision based upon his or her belief that a player was or wasn’t in the restricted circle, they can review the play.  Upon review of the video, the referee can change the call.

As mentioned, because offensive players are typically jumping as high as they can around the basket the NBA implemented the restricted circle primarily to keep collisions down for player safety.  They do not want players trying to take charges at or under the basket as these collisions are really unsafe for the offensive player.

Can you review a foul in college basketball?

As mentioned previously in the article, you cannot review whether or not a common foul occurred in men’s college basketball.  This means if your team got whistled for a bogus call, unfortunately the mistake will stand. Common fouls are not reviewable.

Just like the NBA, college basketball referees can review certain specifics surrounding a common foul (but again, they CANNOT review whether or not the foul itself occurred). These specifics that can be reviewed are:

  • if a foul occurred before or after the game time ran out
  • if a foul occurred before or after the shot clock ran out
  • which player committed the foul
  • which player should be shooting free throws
  • if a player was shooting a 2 or 3 point try when getting fouled

Similar to the NBA, in college basketball there are a few other specific types of fouls where you can use the review process (source):

  • Review process can be used to determine whether or not a foul should be called a flagrant foul or common foul
  • Review process can be used to determine whether or not a flagrant foul was faked (flop rule)
  • Review process can be used to determine if a foul occurred in the restricted circle or not. This can only be reviewed in last 2 minutes of 4th quarter and overtime

Flagrant Foul Review Process

College basketball allows referees to review all fouls that they think could be deemed flagrant.  They also have flagrant 1 and flagrant 2 fouls based upon the severity of the foul. 

Just like the NBA, flagrant 2 fouls get the player ejected for the rest of the game. Two flagrant 1 fouls will also get the player ejected. 

Unlike the NBA, college basketball allows for the review process to examine whether or not a flop occurred during a flagrant foul. If the call in these scenarios was a flagrant foul call, then the flopping or faking player will get the flagrant foul called on him. 

Also, in college if a referee calls a flagrant foul and then reviews the play and realizes that no foul actually occurred, the team in possession at the time of the call will inbound the ball and the foul call will be eliminated.

This may sound like a foul can be reversed, but please understand this specific scenario is in reference to flagrant fouls. For example, let’s say a referee issued a flagrant because he thought a player shoved another player to the ground while running down the court. Upon review, he realizes they inadvertently tripped. They may then wipe away the foul as if it never was called.

Restricted Area Foul Review Process

Just like in the NBA, men’s college basketball has a restricted circle where off-ball defenders are not allowed to take a charge.  If a player is touching or inside this line (or above it) and attempts to take a charge it will be called a block regardless of the defensive player’s position. 

This is reviewable and can be overturned only in the last 2 minutes of the game or in OT.  Just like with the NBA, this was primarily put in place for player safety but also keeps the court spaced better.  Not allowing players to take charges around the basket gives offensive players a better chance to attack the basket and score.

Why You Can’t Review Fouls in Basketball

In general, fouls are not reviewed in basketball to help keep the length and pace of games in a good spot. If you began reviewing fouls, then it could open the door for numerous lengthy reviews throughout the game.  Replays already take a significant amount of time, which does slow games down and kill emotion and stadium energy. 

Also, teams get free timeouts when the referees are reviewing the play, which can be a huge advantage for a team if they are trying to save their timeouts.

But getting the call right does matter, and some have asked for the ability to review 2-3 calls per game, much like football coaches have limited reviews. Even though this may work, it is a process that the NBA and NCAA may rather just leave alone and not have to deal with the implementation and adaptation of such rules.

Joshua Lloyd

Joshua is lead content creator for basketball and golf at Sports Fan Focus. Golf is a passion of his and he enjoys both playing and watching golf in his spare time. To read more about Joshua, visit the SFF About Us page.

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