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It’s Time for Change: the Four-Player Eligibility Rule

Last Wednesday’s ending to the Los Angeles Lakers versus Cleveland Cavaliers game was one of the weirdest I’ve ever heard of and probably will ever hear of for a long time.

The Lakers went into the game with just eight eligible players due to an unlucky streak of injuries throughout the season. After two more went down to injuries and center Chris Kaman fouled out, that left L.A. with five players.

That’s where things get interesting. With 3:32 remaining in the game, center Robert Sacre fouled out, leaving the Lakers with just four remaining players eligible to play.

Anyone’s natural instincts would think that that means L.A. would be forced to play a man down, considering that six fouls means disqualification from the game. Right?

Wrong.

According to NBA rules, any team cannot play with four players on the court. Why? No one knows.

Anyways, that means in that situation, Sacre stays on the court and plays with six fouls. Cleveland receives a technical and would receive an additional technical for every foul Sacre committed.

I see two major problems with this rule.

The first revolves around the basic premise that a player receives six fouls. While I understand having only four eligible players is a severe situation, why have a disqualification for fouls if the player can stay in the game anyway? This makes no logical sense.

The second, and bigger problem, is that simply giving the other team a technical foul for each foul isn’t a very big advantage.

For one, it requires that the opposing team actually make the free throw. Even the best foul shooters in the NBA miss free throws.

But more importantly, this rule only gives an advantage if the player who has been deemed “fouled out” commits more fouls. Cleveland only received one technical foul shot, the original one for when Sacre stayed on the floor with six fouls. He never committed a seventh foul, and so the Lakers basically went unscathed for not having five available players.

Somehow that doesn’t seem fair. Basketball requires five players on the court. If you don’t have five players, whether that’s because of injury or fouling out, that’s not the other team’s fault. This isn’t a recreational league of kids where everything has to be fair. The rule is the rule. If a player fouls out, they’re done. Period.

Besides, L.A.’s management should have been more prepared, pulling from the D-League to make sure the team had a decent bench.

But why worry? The NBA’s rule doesn’t truly punish it. With five players on the court to end the game and only one point added to Cleveland’s score for the original technical, L.A. was able to hold on for the victory on the road, snapping a seven-game losing streak.

If we’re going to stay true of the game of basketball, which being that the NBA stands for National Basketball Association I think we should, there has to be a more sizable penalty for playing five players when only four are eligible.

The best option would be for the team simply to be forced to play with four players. That gives the other team, Cleveland in this case, a nice advantage, which the team certainly deserved. Getting the defense to draw fouls, especially when certain players are in foul trouble, is a smart offensive tactic, and deserves to be rewarded.

So, L.A. playing a man down is fair to the Cavaliers because they get an actual advantage on the floor for having the required number of eligible players and it’s fair to the Lakers because they committed the infraction.

To put it simply, as the old saying goes, “If you do the crime, you do the time,” not “if you do the crime, you get a ‘get out of jail free card’ and can go on with what you’re doing.”

NBA, it might be time to look this rule over.

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