Doug Wolter: The strange, fussy foul-calling arrangement

There is a special way fouls are supposed to be called in high school basketball games, and some aren't sure it makes a whole lot of sense

Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter

The next time you attend a high school basketball game, pay close attention to how fouls are called.

I say this because I’ve recently come across a bewildering issue about the way personal fouls are supposed to be announced. Now, I’m not saying it’s a big deal. And I’m not saying it’s being done the wrong way. But there seems to be few people, actually, who can easily explain how it’s intended to work.

I’ve looked into it. I was told by Worthington High School athletic director Josh Dale that there was some kind of a directive sent to him a while back which instructed him to remind announcers not to be bold in broadcasting the number of fouls a player has been charged with during gametime. He said he’d look for the email and pass it along to me, but alas, he was unable to locate it.

Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter

I called an acquaintance of mine at the Minnesota State High School League to have it explained. I left a message, and he has yet to return my call.

I spoke to CJ Nelson at Minnesota West Community and Technical College about it. CJ is uniquely qualified to discuss both high school and college rules. He’s a first-year head boys basketball coach at WHS and also a recruiter for the Bluejays. He has plenty to do besides be concerned about what announcers say at games, but -- always gracious -- he pointed out that there are funny rules in the college game, too.


Finally, Murray County Central AD James Wajer located something I can put my finger on.

So, here’s the thing, as far as I can tell …

The powers that be don’t want announcers to announce the number of fouls that a player has been charged with. They can say, “Foul on Joe Schlabotnik. They cannot say, “Foul on Joe Schlabotnik, his third.” Originally, the rule was established by the National Federation of State High School Associations, and I know it’s been in place at least since 2013 because I saw a reaction about it online.

The reaction wasn’t favorable. I know it’s not favorable, either, with a couple of announcers I talked to closer to home, though they’re doing their best to comply with it.

Wajer confirms that, indeed, it’s a national rule picked up by the MSHSL. Under “Announcer Responsibilities,” it states that calling out the number of fouls on a player is verboten. So is calling out the number of team fouls. And also the type of foul or violation.

There are reasons, of course. I’m not sure what they all are, but here are a few that I’ve heard:

  • If the announcer points out publicly that a player has just drawn his fourth foul, that’s an indicator to the other team to harass said player into committing his fifth offense.
  • A loud announcement of the number committed might embarrass the offender.
  • If it’s a fifth foul and the player’s name is broadcast, opposing fans will cheer even louder when that player has to exit the game. Result: more embarrassment.

Well, I don’t know. Another AD I talked to, Fulda’s Colby Pack, reminded me that coaches keep their own track on the number of fouls rival players have. It’s not like it’s a secret.
And frankly, it’s not a secret to fans, either, if they’re paying attention. In Worthington, every time a player commits a personal foul, his number and the number of his foul is shown on the scoreboard.

Again, I’m not trying to take the rule-makers to task, really. I just think the subject is interesting.


In fact, there are similar rules in other sports, too. In hockey, they’re not supposed to say exactly who is going to the penalty box (although fans with eyes can plainly see), and no names are to be called when indicating a holding penalty in football.

So be it. But I’m kind of thinking these rules were made to make adults feel better. I’m not at all convinced that the players themselves, involved in the heat of the action, really care much at all.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at
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