COMMON MISUNDERSTOOD BASKETBALL RULES
by Bill McKernan, David Anderson and Peter Palermino
The following information is presented as a general
overview and reminder to basketball officials. Basketball is a game whereby
many situations occur that can be very confusing. Basketball officials do
not make calls that decide the outcome of a game. Players commit fouls and
violations and the rules determine the consequences. Officials are
unbiased arbiters of the game and not concerned with who wins or loses
but fairness and safety.
We hope you will find this information informative. We
have presented the information in a manner that helps streamline the
rulebook language so it is understood by all. We welcome your comments or
The primary job of the
basketball official is to permit the basketball game to progress within the
rule with as little interference as possible. IAABO teaches the basic
officiating philosophy as promoted originally by Oswald Tower in the 1940s;
“It is the purpose of the rules to penalize a player who, by reason of an
illegal act, has placed the opponent at a disadvantage.” If there is no
apparent disadvantage to an opponent, then in reality, no rule violation has
occurred. This philosophy, however, assumes that the official has sport
intelligence and mature judgment, which take years to develop. The official
must use discretion in applying this judgment. (IAABO 2005 Fall Seminar
Basket Interference and Goaltending
A player cannot touch the
ball, ring, or net while the ball is on the ring or within the basket. A
player cannot touch the ball if it is in the imaginary cylinder above the
ring. These are examples of basket interference. It is legal to
touch the ring or the net if the ball is above the ring and not touching the
ring, even if the ball is in the imaginary cylinder above the ring.
contacting the ball during an attempt for goal that is on its downward
flight, above and outside the ring, with a chance to go in. On most layups,
the ball is going up after it contacts the backboard. It is legal to pin
the ball against the backboard if the ball is still on its way to the
basket. Goaltending is not basket interference because it occurs
outside of the basket.
Activity on the Backboard or the Ring
Slapping the backboard is
neither basket interference nor goaltending and points cannot be
awarded. A player who strikes a backboard so forcefully that it cannot be
ignored because it is an attempt to draw attention to the player, or a means
of venting frustration, may be assessed a technical foul. When a player
simply attempts to block a shot and accidentally slaps the backboard it is
neither a violation nor is it a technical foul.
The front, top, sides, and
bottom of the backboard are all in play. It is a violation when the
ball passes over the backboard from either direction. The back of a
backboard is out of bounds as well as the supporting structures.
It is legal to grasp or
hang on the ring if a player is avoiding a potential injury to oneself
or another player.
Travel and Fumbling the Ball
A travel violation
occurs when a player lifts their pivot foot before they release the
ball to start a dribble. On a pass or a try for goal, the pivot foot may be
lifted, but may not return to the floor before the ball is released.
A player may slide on the
floor while trying to secure a loose ball until that player’s momentum
stops. This is not a travel. At that point, that player cannot attempt to
get up or rollover. A player securing a ball while on the floor cannot
attempt to stand up unless that player starts a dribble. A player in this
situation may also pass, shoot, or call a timeout. If the player is flat on
his or her back, it is a legal play for that player to sit up but not begin
to stand up.
A fumble is the
accidental loss of player control when the ball is unintentionally dropped
or slips from a player’s grasp. When a player fumbles the ball, the player
is not in control of the ball, and therefore, cannot be called for a
traveling violation. Any steps taken during the recovery of a fumble are
not traveling, regardless of how far the ball goes.
After a player has ended a
dribble and fumbled the ball, it is legal for that player to recover the
ball. However, if that player begins a new dribble, a double dribble
A player who fumbles
the ball after receiving a pass may legally start a dribble.
Attempting a Try for Goal
A player who attempts a try
for goal and misses the basket (shoots an air ball) can retrieve his/her own
missed attempt. It is then legal for that player to start another dribble
or attempt another try for goal.
A player who has their
attempted try for goal blocked and then returns to the floor with the ball
has not traveled. A jump ball has occurred and play will resume with
the alternating possession arrow.
A player who has released
their try for goal, had their try for goal blocked back into their hands and
then lands on the playing court with the ball has not traveled and a jump
ball has not occurred. In this situation, a legal block shot has occurred
and the player can now start a new dribble, shoot or pass the ball.
Palming or Carrying the Ball
Palming or carrying
the ball occurs when the ball comes to rest in the player's hand and the
player dribbles a second time. There is no restriction as to how high a
player may bounce the ball, provided the ball does not come to rest in a
player’s hand and the hand stays above the ball.
Inbounding the Ball, Throw-In
A player inbounding
the ball may step on, but not over the 2-inch out-of-bounds line. During a
designated spot throw-in, the player inbounding the ball must keep one foot
on or over the three-foot wide designated spot. An inbounding player
is allowed to jump or move one or both feet. A player inbounding the ball
may move backward as far as space allows. If player moves outside the
three-foot wide designated spot it is a throw-in violation,
not traveling. In gymnasiums with limited space outside the sidelines and
endlines, a defensive player may be asked to step back no more than three
defender may not break the imaginary plane during a throw-in.
If the defender breaks the imaginary plane during a throw-in, the defender’s
team will receive a warning. Any subsequent violation will result in
a team technical foul. If the defender contacts the ball after
breaking the imaginary plane, it is a player technical foul and a team
warning will be recorded. If the defender fouls the inbounding player after
breaking the imaginary plane, it is an intentional personal foul, and
a team warning will be recorded.
The inbounding player
does not have a plane restriction, as does the defender, but has five
seconds to release the ball and it must come directly onto the court.
If a player's momentum
carries him/her off the court, he or she can be the first player to touch
the ball after returning inbounds. That player must not have left
the court voluntarily and must immediately return inbounds. It is not
necessary to have both feet back inbounds – one is sufficient assuming the
other foot is not out-of-bounds.
It is legal for a throw-in
to be deflected, tipped, or batted by an offensive player in the frontcourt
to an offensive player in the backcourt and no violation occurs.
It is legal during a
throw-in for a defensive player to jump from his or her frontcourt,
secure control of the ball with both feet off the floor, and return to the
floor with one or both feet in the backcourt. The player may make a normal
landing and it makes no difference whether the first foot down is in the
frontcourt or the backcourt. These three situations are not backcourt
If a screen is set out
of view of a stationary defender, the defender must be given one normal step
to change direction and attempt to avoid contact. If a screen is set
on a moving defender, the defender gets a minimum of one step and a maximum
of two steps, depending on the speed and distance of the defender.
The hand is considered part
of the ball when the hand is in contact with the ball. This includes
holding, dribbling, passing, or even during a try for goal. Striking a ball
handler or a shooter on that player's hand is incidental contact and not a
foul, no matter how loud it sounds.
“Reaching-in” is not a
foul. There must be contact to have a foul. If contact does occur, it’s
either a holding foul or an illegal use of hands foul. When a
player, in order to stop the clock, does not make a legitimate play for the
ball, holds, pushes or grabs away from the ball, or uses undue roughness,
the foul is an intentional foul.
“Over-the-back” is not
a foul. There must be contact to have a foul. A taller player may often be
able to get a rebound over a shorter player, even if the shorter player has
good rebounding position. If the shorter player is displaced, then a
pushing foul must be called. A rebounding player, with an inside
position, while boxing out, is not allowed to push back or displace an
opponent, which is a pushing foul.
A defensive player does not
have to remain stationary to take a charging foul. A defender may
turn away or duck to absorb contact, provided he or she has already
established legal guarding position, which are both feet on the
playing court and facing the opponent. The defender can always move
backwards or sideways to maintain a legal guarding position and may even
have one or both feet off the playing court when contact occurs. That
player may legally rise vertically. If the defender is moving
forward, then the contact is caused by the defender, which is a blocking
The fact that contact occurs
does not constitute a foul and may be viewed as incidental contact.
Contact, which occurs unintentionally in an effort by an opponent to reach a
loose ball, or contact which may result when opponents are in equally
favorable positions to perform normal defensive or offensive moves, should
not be considered illegal, even though the contact may be severe.
Three, Five and Ten Second Violations
An offensive player cannot
stay within the free throw lane area for more than three (3) seconds.
Allowance shall be made for a player who, having been in the restricted area
for less than three seconds, dribbles in or moves immediately to try for
goal. There is no three-second count after the release for a try for goal.
A new 3-second count begins when the offensive player retrieves a missed
attempt for goal.
The offensive team has 10
seconds to move the ball from the backcourt to the frontcourt area. A
ten-second count continues in the backcourt when the defense deflects or
bats the ball in the backcourt but does not control the ball. When a
dribbler is advancing the ball into the frontcourt, the ball maintains
backcourt status until both feet and the ball touch entirely in the
The closely guarded
rule is in effect in frontcourt only, when a defender is within six feet of
the ball handler. The count continues even if defenders switch. The
five-second count ends when a dribbler gets his/her head and shoulders ahead
of the defender.
Calling a Timeout
The head coach may request
and be granted a timeout if his/her player is holding or dribbling
A player saving the ball from
going out-of-bounds, while in possession of the ball and in the air can
request and be granted a timeout.
Free Throw Lineup
There are a maximum two
offensive players and four defensive players in the six marked free throw
lane spaces. The defense must be in both bottom spaces on all free
throws. The shooter and all the players in the designated lane spaces must
wait until the ball hits the ring before entering the free throw lane.
During a free throw, no
opponent, including bench personnel, may disconcert the free thrower.
Kicking the Ball
Kicking the ball is
intentionally striking it with any part of the leg or foot and is a
violation. If the ball is unintentionally kicked, play shall continue
regardless how far the ball travels and who recovers it.
Uniforms and Accessories
Players may not participate
while wearing jewelry.
Headbands are legal
but must be a single color.
Undershirts must be
similar in color to the jersey and shall not have frayed or ragged edges.