Understanding this phrase is important for correct application of the continuation rule. Here's the part of the continuation rule that's relevant:
XVI.C. Continuation rule
3. An infraction affected the play if an infracted player determines that the outcome of the specific play (from the time of the infraction until play stops) may have been meaningfully different absent the infraction. (For example, if a receiver is fouled and thereby prevented from getting open for a pass, the play was affected; however, if the receiver would not have received a pass even without the foul, the play was not affected.)
A few things to note about this rule:
-if the team that committed the infraction gains or retains possession (e.g.- a defensive infraction followed by a turnover, or an offensive infraction followed by a completed pass), it doesn't matter whether the infraction occurred before or after the throw.
-the infracted player gets to determine whether the infraction affected the play.
-the specific play is described as beginning at the time of the infraction and ending when play stops, and is not limited to a particular pass or event.
To explain this a bit more clearly, let's illustrate this with some examples.
We'll start with an easy one: A receiver starts his cut but is fouled by his defender. The thrower either doesn't realize there has been a foul and throws the disc anyway, or has already thrown the disc. The receiver feels that he would have had a play on the disc if he hadn't been fouled. Therefore he determines that the infraction affected the play, and the disc returns to the thrower.... unless the specific rule says otherwise, which in this case it
does (according to XVI.H.3.b.2 Receiving Fouls, if the foul is uncontested the disc goes to the receiver at the spot of the infraction; if contested, it goes back to the thrower).
Ok, now let's say that the same receiver was fouled, but this time the thrower, seeing that that receiver was not open (but not realizing that a foul had been called), decides to throw to a different receiver, perhaps the dump. The dump can't get open, and the thrower ends up throwing the disc right to the dump's defender. In this case, there's a reasonable argument to be made that if the first receiver hadn't been fouled, he may have been a
better option for the thrower, and the pass may have been completed to him. Therefore, the fouled receiver may still determine that the foul affected the play, and the disc will return to the thrower.
At this point you may be thinking, well, every time there's a defensive foul before an incomplete throw, the offense can claim that the foul affected the play, and the disc will go back to the thrower. And in fact, this is mostly true. (Note that the 10th edition did not clearly address what should happen when there's a defensive violation preceding an incomplete throw, and therefore a special clarification was given at club and college nationals for the past several years, in which it was decided that this scenario would be played such that the disc would always go back to the thrower.)
However, the 11th edition is a bit more nuanced in that it allows for the infracted player to determine that the infraction didn't affect the play, if that is the case.
For example, imagine our same receiver being fouled, but now let's say that receiver is on the other side of the field from the thrower, perhaps out of range for that thrower's throws. Meanwhile, the thrower sees another receiver open up the line for an easy pass, and throws it to that open receiver, but the throw gets picked up by the wind and goes out of bounds. In this case, the fouled receiver recognizes that the fact that he was fouled had no impact on the fact that the disc was turned over, and determines that the infraction did
not affect the play, and the turnover stands.
One last comment on this:
The phrase "affected the play," which refers to a specific play in the context of an infraction and the continuation rule (as described above), should not be confused with the phrase "affect continued play," which is part of the definition of incidental contact, and therefore of fouls (which are addressed elsewhere on this page).