The WNBA’s 8-second Backcourt Problem

Referees in the WNBA will blow their whistle for a violation of the 8-second backcourt rule when they see the 24-second shot clock hit 16. It seems logical. After all, 24-8 = 16. But that’s wrong in this context. This being a countdown clock starting at an even second (e.g 24.0), you are going to be a second off if you only pay attention to the integer part (as is displayed on the shot clock) and don’t take the fraction into account.

Huh?

Let’s make this easy to see by making a list of 1-second intervals:

  • 24.0, 23.9, 23.8 … 23.2, 23.1, 23.0 = 1 second
  • 23.0 – 22.0 = 2 seconds
  • 22.0 – 21.0 = 3 seconds
  • 21.0 – 20.0 = 4 seconds
  • 20.0 – 19.0 = 5 seconds
  • 19.0 – 18.0 = 6 seconds
  • 18.0 – 17.0 = 7 seconds
  • 17.0 – 16.0 = 8 seconds

You see the problem, right? After, say, 7.5 seconds, the timer will be at 16.5…but because of how the clock is displayed, it will show 16. It will also show 16 at 16.9 seconds just as well as at 16.0 seconds. As a result, any time UNDER 16.0 seconds will mean a violation.

This shouldn’t be this difficult for referees to understand. It’s only when a FULL 8 seconds have ticked will a violation have occurred. That doesn’t mean when you see 16 on the shot clock. If you blow the whistle when you see 16 instead of waiting until you see 15, then it’s very likely you’ve just cheated the team on offense.

Please, WNBA, don’t make me explain this again.

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