What Does it Mean to Have a Foul to Give?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve been watching some basketball and towards the end of games the announcer will sometimes say that a team has a “foul to give.” What does that mean?


Dear Doug,

In the NBA each player can commit five fouls before getting kicked out of the game for good on the sixth. A team cannot get kicked out of a gave for fouling too many times (although Chuck Klosterman wrote a great story about a team winning with only three players left at the end of the game) but there are consequences for fouling a lot. We’ll get to what these consequences are in a second, but first we have to quickly define a few different types of fouls.

  1. An offensive foul is when someone whose team has the ball does something against the rules to a player whose team does not have the ball.
  2. A defensive foul is when someone whose team doesn’t have the ball does something illegal to someone whose team does have the ball.
  3. A shooting foul is a type of defensive foul that happens when someone does something illegal to a player who is in the act of shooting the basketball.
  4. A non-shooting foul is… well, you know, all the other defensive fouls that aren’t shooting ones.

Only defensive fouls count towards the team total. The count of team fouls resets to zero at the start of each quarter. On fouls one through five the player who is fouled will shoot two free-throws only if the foul was a shooting foul. After the fifth foul, from foul six until the end of the quarter, the player who is fouled shoots two free-throws for any defensive foul — no matter if they were shooting or not when fouled. This state of being for a team is called “the bonus.”

Okay — we finally have enough background to answer your question. Having a foul to give means that a team has not yet reached the fifth foul of the quarter. In other words — they can still foul the other team at least once before the other team is in the bonus and will shoot free throws when fouled. At the end of a game or quarter, having a foul to give is particularly useful because a defensive team can use it to disrupt the other team’s plans. If the offensive team has fifteen seconds left, they can set up a nice play to run but the team with a foul to give can wait until there are about three or four seconds left and then give that foul (i.e. foul the player with the ball.) Because the other team is not in the bonus, they will not shoot free-throws, they will just get the ball back and have to pass it in from out of bounds and try to run another play but this time with only a few seconds.

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer


Can You Help Me Understand the Playoff Beard?

Dear Sports Fan,

The guy I’m dating has started to grow a “playoff beard” to support his favorite hockey team. Can you tell me what he could possibly be thinking? And is there anything I can do to stop him?


Dear Sonja,

The growing of a playoff beard in the context of a relationship can be a very delicate issue, particularly if you are not into your beau’s tonsorial experiment for stylistic reasons. We must deal with whether it’s okay to try to influence the beard, and if so, what the best methods are.

In most cases, I would argue that a partner’s appearance is out of bounds. Everyone influences their partner’s style by complimenting them on certain choices and staying silent on others. It’s even okay to say things like, “Honey, those neon teal capris are very flattering on you, but I think I prefer the way a simple pair of jeans allows your natural elegance to shine through.” It’s fine to express an opinion, but when it comes to actually asking, negotiating, or demanding a stylistic change… that crosses a line and becomes an infringement on your partner’s individuality and personal control.

Is a playoff beard really a choice of style though? I don’t think so. I think it’s an element of fandom divorced from[1] style. It’s more akin to painting your face on game day or wearing giant foam fingers[2] than cutting bangs into your hair. It’s very likely that he is doing this because somewhere deep down, he feels like his actions will affect the success of his team. This is as obviously insane as it is common.

One argument you could make is that the playoff beard isn’t really as much of a rule as people think it is. The playoff beard is a relatively recent tradition, having been started by the New York Islanders in the 1980s. It was immediately correlated with victory when the Islanders won four Stanley Cup championships in a row.[3] The NHL has been around since 1917, so the majority of its history has been spent sans beard. Even since 1980 there have been lulls and resurgences in the popularity of the playoff beard. For instance, in 2009 the Detroit Red Wings used the slogan “The Beard is Back” on their way to the finals. Unless your date is a Red Wings fan, he probably hates that team. Ask him if he really wants to be a part of something the Red Wings “brought back.”

If you prefer the indirect approach, here are a couple things you might want to try.

  • Wait until day four. This is probably the itchiest day in the history of the universe. Watch for a particularly agonized moment and mention how much more you enjoy kissing his neck when it’s smooth.
  • According to the rules of playoff beards, not being able to grow a beard does not excuse you. For example, Patrick Kane grew a playoff mullet a couple years back. Tell your boyfriend that you’re going to join him this playoff season as best you can. According to the rules, “Women are not exempt from playoff beards.  Some refuse to shave their legs…others get more…um…creative.  I’ll just leave it at that.”

Your third option is to embrace the playoff beard! You might be surprised at how much you grow to like the “fuzzy and furry facial accoutrement” growing on his face. The female bloggers over at Puck Daddy certainly do — they just wrote a “Guide to 2012 Stanley Cup scruff.” Encourage him to take part in the beard-based charity drive at Beard-A-Thon where hockey fans have raised over $100,000 so far!

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. perhaps even intentionally oppositional to
  2. of course if he is growing a beard, he probably does those things too…
  3. Also point out that they have not won since… so it may be more of a curse than a boon

What's Up with Realignment in College Sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s up with realignment in college sports? That seems to be all anyone is talking about these days.



Dear Ken,

If you’ve ever wondered why national borders are so messed up — why they break cultural groups in half, ignore obvious geographic boundaries like rivers and mountains, and  geometric conventions like straight lines — then this is the perfect non-violent real life lesson. Over the past couple weeks (and years,) several schools have committed to moving from one conference to another. The borders are shifting.

There’s no need to get into the specifics[1] but suffice it to say that many of them involve relatively impractical moves like Pittsburgh (366 miles from the ocean) into the Atlantic Coast Conference and Texas A&M (Southern, but not particularly Eastern) into the South-Eastern Conference. It’s not all geography — the Big Ten conference now has 12 teams.[2]

The sport that’s driving all of this is football. There’s an enormous amount of money made on college football. According to this CNN article, in 2010 the average school with a football team in one of the major conferences made over a million dollars a game. The important phrase in that sentence is not “over a million,” it’s “major conferences.” Right now the major conferences are the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac 12, the ACC, and the Big East. As these conferences threaten to break up, the member schools are wriggling around in their chairs, trying not to be the last one standing when the music stops. This creates MORE instability, which creates more nervousness, which creates more movement, which creates more instability… I could keep this up all night if it didn’t wear out my suspenders.

There’s nothing I hate more than people who simply argue that everything that once was was better than anything that will be. This is mindless nostalgia, the subject of a recent brilliant essay by Chuck Klosterman,[3] and I will try to avoid it. However, it seems to me that letting the profit from a single sport drive who everyone other athlete in those schools play (and how far they have to travel to do it) is too bad. It’s another sign that the big money college sports, football and basketball, need to be more fully divorced from track and field, swimming, soccer, field hockey, etc. We can have semi-pro football and basketball teams affiliated with universities that do not drag everyone else through this mud and that are not as inherently hypocritical as the “amateur” leagues are now but that still are profitable enough to fund the non-money sports.

Not sure if I answered your question or just added to your list of people who are talking about realignment but thank you for your question.

Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Because it’s pretty boring, even to crazy college football fans. This website does a ridiculously compendious job of covering it.
  2. They compounded this mistake by dividing the league into two six team divisions, one named “Legends” and one named “Leaders.” Both divisions are made up of teams of college kids.
  3. Although I must say… his writing used to be way better in the early aughts…”

Chuck Klosterman Explains why Sports Fans Must Watch Live

Chuck Klosterman, the mildly well known pop-culture critic wrote a piece explaining the phenomenon of watching live sports and why watching sports on DVR just doesn’t cut it… we thought it was an ingenious and enjoyable explanation!

My life is broken into two halves. They’re not equal halves, but sometimes they feel that way. The first half is spent trying to figure out how reality works, if time is real, and what it means to be alive; the other half is spent scheduling my life around sporting events I am compelled to watch, even though I don’t care who wins and won’t remember anything significant about the game in two weeks’ time.

Read the rest of the article here…