Basketball

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Study: Larger Buffer Zone Needed to Make Basketball Safer

3 Apr, 2019

By: Michael Popke

As March Madness goes into the homestretch, a trio of researchers is recommending a wider buffer zone around basketball courts — a move that, if implemented, could have major repercussions for operators of any facility that includes a basketball court.

Ceyda Mumcu and Gil Fried from the University of New Haven’s Sport Management Department, along with Dan Liu of the Department of Physics at the University of Hartford, claim that “while distance alone does not make a court safe, those designing and building new courts should strive as much as possible to expand the buffer zone to provide the safest environment possible.” They add that various rule-making and governing bodies also should revisit their own guidelines to determine if they assist in providing a safe environment.

The researchers make their case in a detailed article published in the latest issue of the Sport and Recreation Law Association’s Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport.  

As reported by AthleticBusiness.com:

Various playing rules and court diagrams mandate a minimum of 3 feet with a preferable 10 feet of buffer space, but the … research team determined there to be no evidence that 3 feet was anything but a guess. To lend scientific backing to the buffer issue, three research studies were undertaken. The first examined a number of gyms to determine standard practice for buffer zones. The second study surveyed coaches to determine mechanics of players leaving the court — by getting fouled or performing a basketball move such as diving for a loose ball, for example. 

Lastly, a major study was undertaken using a real basketball game, speed guns, force plates, and other physics tools to measure what players actually do during a game, how they travel, and how long it takes them to stop.

The study did not examine the impact of being fouled, padding issues and other issues. Instead, it strictly examined the amount of space needed for players to slow down based on traditional basketball movements. The study concluded that “by adopting at least a 5.2-foot buffer zone (and preferably an 8-foot buffer zone), most facilities can provide a safer distance for players, but this distance should be tempered based on variables highlighted in the paper such as the player’s age, size, experience, and the facility’s player injury history.”

To back up their claims, the researchers cited examples of serious injuries that might not have occurred with a larger buffer zone  — including a 2001 incident in which a  16-year-old girl suffered a traumatic brain injury and received a settlement from the high school where she was playing after she stepped on a ball and was propelled into an unpadded wall located less than six feet away from the baseline.

“These incidents can result in serious injuries and possible lawsuits claiming a facility was dangerous or a program administrator acted inappropriately by allowing the game/practice to be played without enough of a buffer zone,” they write. “For many of the lawsuits, the facility was able to avoid liability by showing they met/exceeded minimum ‘buffer zone’ mandates established by various associations or organizations.”

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