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The SEC is the most foul-prone major conference in college basketball, and it’s not close

Do you sometimes hear the sound of whistles in your sleep after watching SEC basketball games? Does it, at times, feel games have become glorified free throw contests in recent years?

That’s because in the SEC, it just means more (fouls).


According to ESPN’s John Gasaway, the SEC has been the most foul-prone major conference in all of college basketball each of the past five seasons.

“Last season, while the other five major conferences collectively posted a lower foul rate than they had the previous season, the Southeastern Conference went in a different direction,” Gasaway reported. “The SEC’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA in league games) increased by a notably robust 14%. The only league in the nation that posted a higher free throw rate in 2019-20 was the SWAC. Barely.”

Leading up to the 2013-14 season, the NCAA men’s basketball committee voted to put more of an emphasis on defensive violations, leading to a spike in foul calls for one year. That season finished with a 0.403 free throw rate, compared to roughly one free throw for every three shot attempts from the field we see in today’s game.

As for the SEC, they finished the 2019-20 season with a 0.395 foul rate, on-par with the 2013-14 season. More specifically, South Carolina finished as the worst fouling team in the conference with an opponent free throw rate of 0.571, followed by Missouri at 0.559.

The SEC’s sky-high foul rate made the variance across all of college basketball “easily” the highest in almost two decades.

“Last season, the variance in free throw rates across the six major conferences clocked in at easily its highest point in the past 19 years,” Gasaway said. “This was driven not only by the SEC but also by the low level of foul calls in Big Ten games. Yet even the Big Ten was much closer to the Division I average than was the SEC.

“In a sport where free throws are becoming less frequent, the SEC is forging its own path and still recording roughly two shots at the line for every five from the field. This state of affairs appears to be more of a coaching choice than a byproduct of overzealous referees. The SEC is quite simply playing its own brand of basketball — and could well do so again in 2020-21.”


Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

10 Comments for The SEC is the most foul-prone major conference in college basketball, and it’s not close

  1. Wildfelinebeeline
    4:22 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

    So, you’re saying that the SEC better prepares players for the insults…er….foul calls than the other conferences? Isn’t that what Cal has been doing with his players? Wow! What a coincidence!

  2. 2andToodleLoo
    4:25 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

    More like worst refs.

  3. BobbyBlue
    4:27 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

    Of course the Weakest, most crooked officiating in the nation, has nothing to do with these stats.

  4. mothandras
    4:33 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

    I would like to see the numbers brown by Ref.. Doug Shows i’m sure is near the top of the list, especially for UK games.

  5. UKinIN
    4:38 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

    SEC is one of the, if not the top, most athletic conferences. The more athletic and aggressive the players, the more fouls to call.

  6. sprtphan
    4:46 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

    Some SEC games are hardly watchable.

    • UKinIN
      6:32 pm October 15, 2020 Permalink

      SEC is the most athletic… not the most skilled.

  7. Big Sexy
    1:24 am October 16, 2020 Permalink

    Ive been complaining for two years about the amount of fouls called in the SEC.

  8. Aar
    7:59 am October 16, 2020 Permalink

    Allow each official to call no more than 4 fouls per half – insuring no more than 24 fouls per game. It may get ugly at first but coaches will eventually stop coaching their teams to foul or to try to draw fouls.

  9. Megan
    2:23 pm October 16, 2020 Permalink

    It’s practical math. The most efficient place from which to score is the free-throw line. Even mediocre free-throw shooters score better from the line than from the floor. A paltry 60 percent from the line is equivalent to 60 percent from two-point range and 40 percent from the arc.

    So you want to get there. A lot. How many times did Kentucky make more free throws than their opponent attempted? That’s what you want. And you do that by being aggressive on offense, by driving to the basket, smartly forcing the issue, not taking a bunch of jumpers.

    Unlike some here, I want my team to shoot a lot of free throws. It’s a distinct advantage, not to mention that it eventually benches or disqualifies players on the other team. Hard to do that with jumpers. Why don’t you foul a jump shooter? Because you don’t want to send them to the line, where they can score more efficiently.