DMN: The physics of flopping — SMU researcher studies mechanics of NBA fakery

Weyand, an associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics at SMU, is using technology to determine how much force is necessary to knock an athlete off his or her feet.

(From left) Researcher Ken Clark pushes student D'Marquis Allen as Peter Weyand waits to catch Allen during a demonstration on the physics of "flopping." Weyand, an associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics at Southern Methodist University, is using technology to help understand how much force is necessary to knock an athlete off his or her feet. (Photo Dallas Morning News)

(From left) Researcher Ken Clark pushes student D’Marquis Allen as Peter Weyand waits to catch Allen during a demonstration on the physics of “flopping.” Weyand, an associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics at Southern Methodist University, is using technology to help understand how much force is necessary to knock an athlete off his or her feet. (Photo Dallas Morning News)

Dallas Morning News science reporter Anna Kuchment covered the research of SMU biomechanics expert Peter G. Weyand, who is teaming with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to investigate the forces involved in basketball collisions and the possibility of estimating “flopping” forces from video data.

The coverage, “The physics of flopping: SMU researcher studies mechanics of NBA fakery,” was published Dec. 13.

Flopping is a player’s deliberate act of falling, or recoiling unnecessarily from a nearby opponent, to deceive game officials.

Athletes engage in dramatic flopping to create the illusion of illegal contact, hoping to bait officials into calling undeserved fouls on opponents.

The phenomenon is considered a widespread problem in professional basketball and soccer. To discourage the practice, the National Basketball Association in 2012 began a system of escalating fines against NBA players suspected of flopping.

The Cuban-owned company Radical Hoops Ltd. awarded a grant of more than $100,000 to fund the 18-month research study at SMU. Weyand is associate professor and director of the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory at the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

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EXCERPT:

By Anna Kuchment
Dallas Morning News

Was it a flop or not?

Last summer, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gave Southern Methodist University more than $100,000 to try to answer that question scientifically. On Thursday, SMU biomechanics expert Peter Weyand demonstrated the early stages of his flopping research to a small group of journalists.

Flopping is when an athlete fakes a fall to trick referees into calling a foul on an opponent. The behavior is prevalent in sports such as basketball and soccer.

It’s an especially sore point with fans.

“In regular life, people tend to dislike dishonest people, and the same thing goes for basketball,” said Jeff Lenchiner, editor of the NBA news site InsideHoops.com. “It’s dishonesty expressed physically, and it’s considered an insult to the game.”

In one compilation of flops posted to YouTube involving Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs, an outraged spectator calls the behavior “a disease” and a mark of cowardice, “bad sportsmanship and horrible acting.”

Flopping also costs players money. Last year, the National Basketball Association cracked down on the practice. Players now receive a warning after their first flop, followed by a series of escalating fines, from $5,000 for two flops to $30,000 for five violations.

Weyand says there is plenty of good science that can come from studying flopping. “This is uncharted territory,” he says. Scientists lack even a basic understanding of how much force is required to topple someone.

That is one of the experiments Weyand demonstrated Thursday. D’Marquis Allen, an SMU sophomore, stood on a treadmill-like platform. Wearing black spandex shorts, a black cycling T-shirt and reflective sensors stuck to his skin, he braced himself for a shove. Soon a lab volunteer pushed him in the chest with a device called a “flop-buster”: a padded yellow bar embedded with sensors. Allen took several steps back.

“That was definitely a foul,” Weyand said later, after measuring the force of the collision.

The research team was surrounded by gadgets that will help it measure the mechanics of basketball collisions. High-speed cameras recorded motion in three-dimensional space. Force plates beneath the platform on which Allen was standing marked his center of gravity. And motion sensors measured Allen’s position, velocity and acceleration.

The goal: to help officials tell flop from foul by simply looking at a video.

“I feel strongly about introducing science and data to situations in business and sports where there previously had been none,” Cuban said by email. “I love to challenge conventional wisdom with” research.

But at this stage, it’s unclear whether flopping can be measured scientifically.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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