Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur and outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team, has awarded Southern Methodist University (SMU) Associate Professor Peter G. Weyand a grant of over US$100,000 to carry out an 18-month biomechanics study of flopping on the basketball court. The study is aimed at determining if video or other records of the on court action can be used to distinguish between a player going down as a result of a collision or whether they are taking a dive.
A flop is an intentional fall by a player intended to deceive the officials into calling a personal foul against an opposing player, thereby giving the fouled team an advantage ranging from restarting the action to multiple free throws. Flopping not only turns the smooth flow of basketball into a choppy series of vignettes, but also is used to stop the game just prior to an opponent scoring a basket. Flopping is held by many as unsportsmanlike behavior, as it is intended to deceive the officials and gain an unfair advantage.
To address this problem, the US NBA instituted a system of fines for flopping in the 2012-2013 season. The fines begin at $5000 for the first flop in a game to $30,000 for the fifth. Further flops can result in suspension from competition for a number of games. While these fines are acknowledged by NBA Commissioner David Stern as being too small to stop the activity, it is not clear if the league will move toward larger penalties.
While many flops are obviously intentional, there are others that straddle the line between real fouls and deliberate flops. The SMU study being funded by Cuban is examining this issue, of whether there is a clear observable indication from the action itself that a fall after a collision is real or not.
SMU Associate Professor Weyand is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts on human performance, particularly on issues where exercise physiology and biomechanics interact. He is no stranger to controversy, having carried out testing in support of the historic appeal of the Olympics ban on amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius.
Prefessor Weyand's home turf is SMU's Locomotor Performance Laboratory. This laboratory specializes in the study and analysis of people walking, running, jumping, carrying loads, and the like. His goal is to relate muscle function to energy expenditure and performance, which he and his team accomplish by examining the connections between how movements are carried out, the resulting performance, how much energy is used in the movement, and in the level of power than can be delivered.
As Cuban tweeted recently, “Is it a flop? Let the scientists figure it out . im paying for the research to find out.” Cuban, however, may have ulterior motives. The outspoken owner has accumulated nearly $2 million dollars of fines personally in the 13 years he has owned the Mavericks. As many of these are associated with complaining about official's rulings on flopping, he is looking forward to being less angry at Maverick games. The Wall Street Journal reports that Cuban wrote, "If we get great data we can learn from, it will save me a ton of money in fines."