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In the SEC, it just means more (fouls)

Ref-haters and anti-chargers, do I have some numbers for you…

In light of the Kentucky-Missouri game earlier this week and the complaints about the officiating, spearheaded by Shannon T. Ref (who’s looking a little veiny in the above photo), I decided to do some digging on the College Basketball Sports-Reference page with the goal of breaking down just how bad the foul-calling epidemic is in the SEC compared to other conferences.

When I started searching around online for other articles of the type, I found a great analysis from last March written up in the Montgomery Advisor. Funny enough, the article was sparked by an Auburn-Kentucky game that UK won, but included 46 foul calls. From the 2020 season, here are some fouling stats by the conference that author Josh Vitale included:

Total fouls committed

  • SEC — 7,746 (553 per 14 teams)
  • ACC — 6,979 (465 per 15 teams)
  • Big Ten — 6,466 (461 per 14 teams)
  • Pac-12 — 5,968 (497 per 12 teams)
  • Big East — 4,970 (497 per 10 teams)
  • Big 12 — 4,864 (486 per 10 teams)

Fouls called per conference game

  • SEC — 39.6
  • Pac-12 — 35.4
  • Big East — 34.8
  • Big 12 — 34.2
  • ACC — 33.8
  • Big Ten — 33.1

Number of teams averaging 17 fouls per game

  • SEC — 11
  • Pac-12 — 7
  • ACC — 6
  • Big Ten — 5
  • Big 12 — 5
  • Big East — 5

Number of teams averaging 19 free throw attempts per game

  • SEC — 14
  • Pac-12 — 8
  • ACC — 7
  • Big Ten — 6
  • Big East — 6
  • Big 12 — 5

Number of teams ranked top-150 in free throw rate (FTR)

  • SEC — 14
  • Pac-12 — 8
  • ACC — 5
  • Big 12 — 5
  • Big East — 4
  • Big Ten — 4

Those are 2019-20 stats, but are you kidding me? Last season, the SEC called nearly 800 more fouls than the next highest Power 5 conference throughout the season. During intraconference play, SEC games were whistled for over four more fouls per game than the next closest power conference.

Just a few other quick hitters from the above statistics:

  • Every SEC team averaged 19 or more free throw attempts per game.
  • Every SEC team was ranked in the top-150 in free throw rate.
  • Throughout 2019-20, SEC teams were called, on average, for 88 more fouls than the next closest conference throughout the season.

Now, this season has been far whackier for obvious reasons, and using total foul numbers is impossible because of how much the cancellations have changed the number of games each team has played.

However, if you look at the average fouls per game among the SEC, ACC, Big East, Big 12 and Big East this season (the Pac-12 is essentially a mid-major), here’s how the numbers shake out so far, ahead of Saturday’s slate of games:

Editor’s note: all statistics for the current season are updated as of the morning of Feb. 6.

Fouls called per conference game

  • SEC — 36.1
  • Big 12 — 34.9
  • Big Ten — 34.7
  • Big East — 33.7
  • ACC — 30.7

Number of teams ranked top-150 in free throw rate 

  • SEC — 9
  • Big Ten — 7
  • ACC — 6
  • Big 12 — 5
  • Big East — 2

Number of teams averaging 19 fouls per game in conference play

  • SEC — 5
  • Big Ten — 1
  • Big 12 — 1
  • Big East — 0
  • ACC — 0

Now, I’d love to add even more stats to illustrate the point, but with the craziness of scheduling this season, it was best to stick with mostly conference play numbers and a stat like free throw rate that measures fouls per 100 field goal attempts and does so regardless of how many games a team has played.

So what do these numbers mean? Well, the SEC is actually down in foul-calling compared to its blistering 2020 season, but it still leads in fouls per game among major conferences by 1.2 – but that isn’t a huge number, right? Actually, it still is. Over the course of hundreds of games played by all of these teams, even a one-foul difference is pretty significant.

This year, only nine of 14 SEC teams appear in the top-150 in free-throw rate as opposed to all 14 last season. However, the SEC still leads among the important conferences.

Another boggling stat: the SEC is the only conference of the five with more than one team fouling more than 19 times per game, and there are FIVE teams in the league that does, with Missouri leading the way as they’re whistled for 21.8 a game.

All of this to say…

It is math. It is fact. The SEC calls more fouls than any other conference. 

In a sample that includes hundreds and hundreds of games, over nearly two years, the differences in foul-calling by conference is incredibly significant.

Article written by Alex Weber

@alexweberKSR on Twitter.

11 Comments for In the SEC, it just means more (fouls)

  1. bigaa69
    2:06 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

    I watched the game between Texas and OkSt earlier in the day before the UK vs Tenn game. Huge difference in how the game is called. None of the ticky tack fouls out top on defenders and they let them play under the bucket. SEC officials are whistle happy. Almost as though they want some TV time to show off their smedium striped shirts…. 🙂

  2. BobbyBlue
    2:51 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

    I would like to know how the refs are picked.
    Ky always seems yo get Shows,Green, Day, or Sermons, and as often as not they get two of those. On top of that Ky gets Dukie V or back
    seat on the plane “Dykes” to add to the broadcast misery known as ESPN.

    • peaches76
      3:18 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

      If we were winning we’d get Bilas. That’s on us.

  3. Aar
    3:34 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

    Limit refs to calling no more than 5 fouls each per half = max 30 fouls per game. Limit players to 4 personal fouls = changes to the way the game is coached. Much faster game, better flow, more entertaining.

  4. W F Reserve
    3:47 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

    Make college officiating a full time job. Conferences responsible for paying and training officials. Most importantly, evaluating and holding them accountable for their performance. Best of each conference available for top non-conference games and sent to NCAA tournament.

  5. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    4:28 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

    We need a silent ballot system where the schools have to vote at the end of every on what refs to keep and which ones won’t be allowed to coach any non conference games. This would keep the refs on the hot seat and wouldn’t allow P5 refs to intervene in other mixed P5 games to help their conference leaders. Same for the tournament, every team in said tournament gets a silent vote on aho can ref and who can’t.

    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      4:32 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

      Somehow my autocorrect is creating words, aho….

    • BobbyBlue
      6:19 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

      Back in the day a coach could blackball one or two officials that couldn’t then call their games.
      Guess that is no longer politically correct.

  6. Bill Jackson
    9:00 pm February 7, 2021 Permalink

    Check out the UK Athletics official site, it does include stats for each game, and DOES break them down for each half. Disturbing trend is UK gets more fouls in their favor, thus more free throws in the first half. BUT, in the second half, which is where the games or won or lost, the opposing team by far gets more fouls in their favor, and many more free throws. So if you only look at totals, it seems that the fouls , and free throws may be somewhat even. But a closer look shows that when the game is on the line in the second half, UK is behind the eight ball. For those that say the referrees do not make the difference in a game, really don’t pay attention. To make matters worse, a coach, or athletic director, can NOT even talk about a referee, without a fine. Name another job in our country that if you do a poor job, you can not be held accountable. The conference commissioners cover for the ref’s at every turn.

  7. 1stkatman
    11:05 am February 8, 2021 Permalink

    You all, and Alex Weber, you are over-simplifying the data.
    The reason those numbers are showing these trends is not all the responsibility of the referee’s. It’s also because our league hacks their opponents worse than other leagues. The SEC is super intense. What some teams lack in talent, they try to violate their way to a win. This has culminated into a culture of fouling like no other conference, leaving the referee’s to try and manage all the chaos. Do referee’s make mistakes? You’re damn straight they do. However, there ain’t no Jesus Christ blowing those whistles out there. I recommend that you all go out there and learn how to administer the rule book in real time action. It takes many years to become a good referee, Every season these guys attend clinics, take tests, get graded by their league assigners, all the while being criticized constantly. Plus, everyone thinks they know all the rules, but they don’t. Rules change every season. Some get dropped, but more are added than dropped.
    The mechanics, and game administration that referee’s are dedicated and committed to performing, aside from the rule book, is a dynamic responsibility that no one understands, unless they have done it/ lived it. So, don’t be so dismissive unless you have attempted to join up and try to do this yourself. Because you don’t understand what you really don’t know anything about.