What is a Clear Path Foul? (A Complete Guide)

There aren’t many rules to the game of basketball. In fact, when the game was first developed it only had 13 rules. However, basketball has changed over the years and some of the rules are deemed “dumb” or “unnecessary”. One of those rules is a clear path foul.

In today’s article we’ll be talking about what a clear path foul is and why it’s a necessary rule in the game of basketball. We’ve also provided a section on the advantage and disadvantages of this basketball rule. Keep reading to find out more.

Clear Path Foul Explained

A clear path foul is defined as an individual foul against an offensive player during the opposing team’s transition scoring opportunity. The offensive player must have possession of the ball and the ball must be at the tip of the half-court circle.

The violation occurs when a player fouls the opposing player who has a clear path toward the basket.

Penalty for a Clear Shot Foul

If a basketball player fouls the offensive player that had a clear shot, the opposing team will be awarded two free shots and possession for the ball. This can be detrimental to the team that received the penalty because the offensive team will then have a higher chance of scoring.

In order for this penalty to be given by the referee the following scenarios would have to take place:

  • The ball is at the tip of the circle in the backcourt
  • There isn’t a defender ahead of the offensive player
  • The offensive player has the ball
  • A player prevents the offensive player from scoring during a clear path

Why a Clear Path Foul is Necessary

Why a Clear Path Foul is Necessary
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The penalty for a clear path foul is the same as a technical foul. It’s designed to prevent players from performing a clear shot foul because it can potentially injure the offensive player. When a clear path foul is being attempted it creates an unsafe game to play.

Examples of a Clear Path Foul

To provide an example, take a look at the game between San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks in this YouTube video.

The foul was committed by Richard Jefferson against Jason Kidds. While the foul looks harmless to the spectator there were no other defenders between Jason and the basket which gave him a clear path. Therefore the foul was enforced.

Because of the foul against Jason Kidd, the Dallas Mavericks got two free shots and they got possession of the basketball that gave them more scoring opportunities.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Clear Path Foul

There are a few advantages and disadvantages of the clear path foul rule. For anyone who loves the game of basketball, it’s important to understand both sides of the rule so that you can understand why it’s enforced and why it should be avoided. Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this rule in this next section.


The Rule Prevents Basketball Players from Getting Injured

When a player has a clear path he usually has all the defenders behind him. This gives him the opportunity to move towards his basket without being blocked by another player. However, since the defenders are behind the offensive player they run the risk of pushing him to the ground in an attempt to stop him from scoring.

Injuries can occur when a player gets pushed from behind while he is running forward. Therefore a clear path foul is designed to prevent players from carrying out the foul. This is also because the penalty is severe for the person committing the foul so it stops them from attempting it.

Increases the Opportunity to Score

There is an increased scoring opportunity for the offensive player that didn’t commit the foul. When a player commits the foul it prevents a fair scoring opportunity for the opposing team. Therefore they get penalized by giving the opposing team two free shots and possession of the ball.

This is great for the opposing team because they get to shoot the ball and potentially increase their score. On the other hand, it’s not ideal for the defensive team because they will lose the ball.

What’s more, if the offensive team dunks the ball the team’s new score could exceed the defensive teams score.


The Penalty is Severe

A clear path foul has the same penalty as a technical foul or what is known as a flagrant. The reason for this is to try and prevent players from carrying out the foul.

The defensive team knows that the penalty for a clear path foul is awarding the offensive team with free throws and the ball. So they must be fully aware of their actions because they could lose the ball for their team and give the offensive team an opportunity to exceed their score.

Those free throws can be extremely detrimental to the defensive team’s opportunity to win the game. And in this case, most basketball fans believe that a clear path foul is unfair.

Requires Video Replay for Clarity

When a referee notices any fouls or rule breaking in the game of basketball, they blow their whistle to stop the game. Often, the referee will need video replays for clarity. A referee sometimes can’t see clearly whether it was a foul or not so he’ll need to see footage to make an informed decision.

However, sometimes there is a long winded debate that can take several minutes on whether it was actually a foul which can waste the viewers and the players time.

Referees often become the enemy to fans when deciding to give the foul to the defensive team. This is because it gives the offensive team more opportunity to score and potentially win the game.

Clear Path Foul Rule Changes in the NBA

Clear Path Foul Rule Changes in the NBA
Just Love Basketball

There have been some changes of the clear path foul rule since its development. Changes to the rule were implemented in the 2018-2019 season. The new rule suggests the following

  • If a defender is making a play for the ball and bumps the offensive player it’s no longer considered a clear path foul.
  • If a defender fouls an offensive player in the act of shooting it’s also no longer considered as a clear path foul whereas it did before.
  • If a defender is ahead of the offensive player with a transitional scoring opportunity a referee cannot call a clear path foul.

Under the new rule a clear path foul is now considered a personal foul against the offensive player. But it will have to be in the event that the there is no defender ahead of the offensive player and that the ball is at the tip of the circle in the backcourt.

These changes are by bright line standards and they are based on the position of the player at the time of the foul. Additionally, it reduces the number of variables that impact the rules implications in basketball. It also narrows down the need for a referee’s judgment.


Recent Clear Path Fouls

Some fans say that clear path fouls are rare so it’s not worth the debate as to whether the rule is necessary or not. However, this season there have been over 10 clear path foul cases according to the NBA’s website. We’ve mentioned the top three latest ones below so you can get more context on this basketball rule.

  • Grizzlies vs. Warriors, May 16, 2021: In the first quarter of the game a clear path foul was called. Based on the data we’ve given you can determine in this video whether you think it was a foul or not.
  • Bulls vs. Nets May 15, 2021: A clear path foul was called in the 3rd quarter of the game. Take a look at the footage here.
  • Clippers vs. Rockets May 14, 2021: In the 3rd quarter of the game a clear path foul was called. Take a look at the footage here.

Final Thoughts

Some fans are puzzled that a clear path foul has the same penalties as a flagrant foul when it isn’t nearly as severe. However, the reason for the rule still stands that it deprives the offensive player for his chance to score.

New changes were implemented to the rule so that there would be less video reviews and fewer judgment calls from referees. But many fans say that it’s done the opposite because there are more referee judgments and video reviews on clear path fouls.

What do you think? Do you believe a clear path foul is necessary in basketball? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts. We’re always happy to hear from our readers.

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