College basketball average fouls per game on track for 35 year high

Anyone who follows college basketball is probably aware by now of the multitude of new rules this season. These rules were designed to decrease physicality and increase scoring in the game. But change is hard. Change often needs strict enforcement and the NCAA’s refs are solely responsible for the implementation and enforcement of these new rules (as if they were hoping for more things to be wrong about). Naturally more enforcement = more fouls. And not everyone is a fan. Many fans have complained that the flow of games is ruined when there is a foul called seemingly every possession. Some coaches, even prominent ones like Tom Izzo, have spoken out against the rules changes.

So, are more fouls being called this year than in previous years? And if so, how many more? I went to the NCAA’s stats website to investigate.

NCAA D1 PF Graph

Last year the average NCAA team committed 18.2 fouls per game. Through the month of November 2015, D1 teams have committed 20.2 fouls per game. Is  this increase that big of a deal? After all it’s just 2 more fouls per game. Really it’s only one more foul per half. A mere 10% increase. Small potatoes, right? Let’s look at this another way.

The last time NCAA D1 teams averaged 20.2 fouls per game was the 1980 season! As you can see in the graph above there has been a general downward trend in average fouls per game throughout the past three and a half decades. This year’s new rules may erase all that.

Yes I realize it is early and our sample size is small. Perhaps refs will cool their whistles as the season progresses. Maybe teams will learn how to play better within the new rules. In all likelihood a combination of both will reduce the average fouls per game.

***Data viz note***

I decided to truncate the Y Axis to highlight the change over time. I don’t think this is disingenuously representing the data because it is contextually relevant.  Keep this in mind – the 2012 season (17.68 fouls per game) represents an NCAA all time low as far back as data is available (which is 1948). The point is, in just 3 years the NCAA has gone from an all time low to what is currently a 35 year high.



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[…] So, let’s go ahead and get to the whining. There are many who complained about the officiating of the final, and there are very likely some who might argue that Gonzaga was cheated out of history; and while such an argument is ridiculous [1], the officiating did affect the game, so some attention should be paid to this concern. Further, there are arguments that foul calls are “on track for 35 year high.” […]

You should have seen the D3 NCAA Tournament game last night between Marietta College and Arcadia University. The three referees called 57 fouls!!!!!

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