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Zero Tolerance Policies Are Dumb

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The NBA just proved why zero tolerance policies make zero sense. Last night Robert Horry body checked Steve Nash into the boards in one of the most obvious flagrant fouls I have ever seen. In a natural reaction, two of Nash's teammates rushed in that direction. As they did, they took about one step on the court. According to the NBA zero tolerance policy, that's it, they're out for the next game.

The two Suns players that have been suspended, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, are critical to the Suns and Robert Horry who started the fight (really, the non-fight, the two Suns players never even came close to Horry) is a small, role player these days (he got a two game suspension, but he could have been suspended for the next eighteen games and it wouldn't have mattered much because he is not one of their critical players).

This rewards dirty teams who would love to trade one of their scrub players for a bunch of good players on the other team. So, the NBA makes it easy for them. Cause an outrageous provocation and if anyone on the other team steps in the wrong direction, the guilty team is rewarded an enormous bonus.

The next game is absolutely critical to this series (which is really the NBA Finals since these are by far the two best two teams left in the playoffs). And unless the Suns can come up with an inspired, near miraculous game, the Spurs have just been handed the series and likely the championship because they play dirtier than the Suns.

Zero tolerance doesn't make any sense because we have to be able to judge the severity of the offense. We need to be able to use human judgment from time to time. Not everything fits neatly into a black and white world. The punishment must fit the crime. Otherwise, you create an incentive to commit greater crimes.

If all of these types of infractions result in suspensions, then a team has an incentive to create greater infractions. They won't suffer any more consequences and they have the potential to devastate the other team by dragging their best players down with them.

If I was the Suns I would be tempted to use my worst players in the next game to purposely foul the living crap out of the Spurs best players - and make sure I do it right in front of their bench. What do you have to lose? So what if your bit player gets suspended, if you could just get the other team to react a little bit, then you can steal a game back by having their best players suspended.

You can see how dumb this system is. Obviously I wouldn't really go after the other team's players because that's low and despicable. That's sinking to the Spurs level (you can see I'm really angry about this - their coach, Gregg Popovich, clearly has a permissive attitude about his players committing hard fouls - I used to like the Spurs and Popovich, but this has made me lose a lot of respect for them; Horry's flagrant foul was at least the third incredibly dirty play by the Spurs in this series).

But let's take this zero tolerance policy to its logical extreme. What if Horry had taken out a knife and started to cut Nash's ear off, would the NBA still suspend the Suns players for leaving the bench to help Nash? What if he pulled a Tyson and bit Nash's ear off? Would it make sense to have the Suns lose the series because the Spurs are willing to commit completely outrageous fouls?

There's a reason why thousands of years of jurisprudence has come up with the idea that the punishment must fit the crime. Arbitrarily giving the maximum sentence for even the smallest crimes doesn't deter crime, it encourages greater crimes.

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