In basketball, a flagrant foul is a serious personal foul. A foul is considered flagrant when it involves excessive or violent contact that could injure the fouled player. A flagrant foul may be unintentional or purposeful; the latter type is simultaneously known as an "intentional foul" in the NBA. However, most intentional fouls are not considered "flagrant" and are performed safely as a necessity for time management.
The NBA flagrant foul rule was enacted in the 1990-91 season, as an attempt to deter contact which, in addition to being against the rules, puts an opponent's safety and health at risk. According to the NBA rulebook, it applies to contact that puts safety and health at risk.
The NBA defines two levels of flagrant fouls, typically referred to as "Flagrant 1" and "Flagrant 2". Referees have discretion in determining which level to call, but the primary distinction is that a Flagrant 2 results in the immediate ejection of the offender. A player who receives two Flagrant 1 fouls in a single game is also ejected upon the second foul.
Over the course of the season, flagrant fouls include increasingly steep monetary fines, and possible suspension, at the discretion of the Commissioner of the NBA.
Within a game, the presence of the flagrant foul rule helps to deter undesired play (usually as the game winds down) by awarding possession of the ball as an extra penalty. A simple personal foul or intentional foul will generally result in either free throws or possession of the ball depending on the number of accumulated team fouls at the end of the game. However, a flagrant foul will result in both the award of free throws and subsequent possession. Thus, when a trailing team is employing a tactic of slowing the game down by fouling, it must be careful not to use unnecessary or excessive contact, even though such fouls are intentional by definition, or it will give its opponent both free throws and the ball back and defeat its own tactic.
FIBA basketball rules have a similar foul called an unsportsmanlike foul, which is roughly equivalent to a flagrant type 1, with the addition that an unsportsmanlike foul can be called if a player fouls with no intention to play the ball (including excessive holding, shirt grabbing), as well as if a player fouls another player on a fast break from behind him. If a player commits a foul warranting immediate ejection from the game, the foul would be called as a disqualifying foul - similar to a flagrant 2. Two unsportsmanlike fouls lead to automatic ejection, similar to the NBA.
The penalty for an unsportsmanlike or disqualifying foul is two free throws and possession at midcourt for the opposing team.
NCAA and NFHS
NCAA (college) and NFHS (U.S. high school) rules define a flagrant foul as a personal or technical foul that is extreme or severe.
(NCAA Only) *A flagrant 1 foul involves excessive or severe contact during a live ball, including especially when a player, :...swings an elbow and makes illegal, non-excessive contact with an opponent above the shoulders..." This offense includes what was previously known as an "intentional foul" for when a player obviously fouls an opposing player to prevent an easy breakaway score. The penalty for a flagrant 1 foul is two free throws and a throw-in in for the opposing team at the out-of-bounds of bound spot nearest the foul.
In that they generally exceed the severity of "common" fouls, in addition to being personal fouls, flagrant 1 and flagrant 2 fouls are also technical fouls.
In May 2011, the NCAA approved the rule changes to the above descriptions of these offenses.