University of New Haven Researchers Prove the Amount of ‘Buffer Zone’ Needed for Basketball Courts

Mar 29, 2019

There have been a number of catastrophic injuries over the years where basketball players have run into walls or other obstructions around basketball courts. These injuries have included paraplegia and quadriplegia injuries. These injuries have happened in youth sports to recreational basketball leagues. The mechanics for each injury might be different, but an often-seen issue is whether there was enough room outside of the out-of-bounds line (end lines) to protect players whose movement might take them outside the court’s boundaries.
Players can leave the boundaries because they are making a basketball-oriented move, cannot stop, dive for a ball, or might get fouled. Whatever the cause, players can have accidents. The key is, can steps be taken to minimize the risk of injuries? The answer is yes. Basketball courts can have padding as a strategy to possibly reduce injuries. Basketball courts also need to have a minimum amount of space around the court that is called a “buffer zone.” Various playing rules mandate a minimum of three feet with a preferable ten feet of buffer space (in some court diagrams/rule books). Where did this measurement come from and is it accurate? That was the question three researchers (Dr. Ceyda Mumcu, Prof. Gil Fried, and Dr. Dan Liu) wanted to determine with science as there is no evidence that three feet was determined by anything other than a guess.
Three research studies were undertaken. The first examined a number of gyms to determine average and typical buffer zones. The second study asked coaches how players left a court to determine mechanics of leaving the court. 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 to stop.
The study did not examine the impact of being fouled, padding issues, and other issues. This study strictly examined the amount of space needed for players to slow down based on traditional basketball movements. The study concluded “[B]y adopting at least a 5.2-foot buffer zone (and preferably an eight-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.”
This conclusion can have major ramifications for gyms all over the world. Facility managers should examine their basketball courts to see if they are indeed safe. 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. Furthermore, different rules/governing bodies should also examine their rules to determine if they are in fact accurate/appropriate.
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