UNIVERSITY PARK — A dramatic gesture is sometimes all it takes to get your opponent in trouble on the basketball court.
Sometimes it's hard to tell what's real.
But with money from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a research team in Dallas is doing a scientific study on the difference between "fouls" and "flops."
There are entire pages of compilation videos on YouTube showing the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) examples of "flopping" in the NBA — pro basketball players suspected of embellishing the extent of contact with other players to persuade the ref to blow the whistle.
But how can you really tell — even with a replay — when an athlete is, in fact, faking a foul?
With more than $100,000 in funding from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, SMU professor Peter Weyand and his team set out nine months ago on a research project dubbed "The Physics of Flopping: Blowing the Whistle on a Foul Practice."
It's a whimsical name for a study, but one that could change the way the game is played — or at least officiated.
"We try to have fun doing the science," Weyand said. "If we are successful with it, there is a lot of potential application."
This research could change the outcomes of games and even lead to new rules and penalties.
So far, here's what the SMU researchers have come up with:
"We can get three-dimensional positions data from wherever we put a reflective marker on a person’s body," Weyand said.
A player outfitted with special equipment stands on a podium that detects his every movement. Sensors and high-speed cameras recording, he takes an intentional push as measurements are gathered on how much force he receives... and just as importantly, how much force is given.
One push weighs in at 90 pounds. "Yeah. Short answer is, 'Yes, that's a real foul," Weyand concludes.
The professor plans to correlate the data on the charts to characteristics captured on video. If it works, telltale signs of flopping could some day be detected by a computer program and presented to a referee on a replay.
The project will be completed this summer — at about the time the NBA season comes to an end, and a whole new slate of dramatic videos alleging biggest flops of the year hits YouTube.