Most Misunderstood Basketball Rules
This is a list of basketball rules that are often misunderstood by coaches,
players, and parents. I developed this list over the past twenty-five years,
officiating thousands of basketball games, listening to erroneous comments from
players, coaches, and mostly from fans, and thinking to myself, "I wish I could
stop the game and explain the real rule to them". This list is not meant to
train officials, but rather, it is meant to educate players, coaches, and fans.
Thanks to the following Official Forum Basketball web site members for their
contributions in further developing this list over the past few months:
Jurassic Referee, Camron Rust, Mark Padgett, Nevada Ref, Mark Dexter, Dan ref,
md ray, Jim golf, Assignment maker, and David M. Special thanks
to boss ref, who gave me a great head start in developing this list. Thanks also
to Hartsy, whose Rules Myths thread back in August, gave me the idea to post
this list on the Official Forum Basketball web site and to seek input from
Official Forum Basketball web site members.
For those of you who have been following the development of this list on this
web site, I promise that this will be the final, final, final, draft. I now plan
to submit this list to my board interpreter, who may use it at our annual
coaches new rules meeting. I will also submit this to the assigner of a local
Catholic school league, who plans to distribute the list to the coaches in the
It is my hope that many of you will find this list useful in some way. Perhaps
some of you may use the list, or a portion of the list, with your own local
board. At the minimum, I'm sure that this list will spark some lively,
professional discussion, as demonstrated on this web site over the past few
months. I will still accept comments, suggestions, corrections, deletions,
additions, etc. from Official Forum Basketball web site members, but any changes
will have to wait until after the upcoming basketball season.
- It is important to know the intent and purpose of a rule so that it may
be intelligently applied in each play situation. A player of a team
should not be permitted an advantage which is not intended by a rule.
Neither should play be permitted to develop which may lead to placing a
player at a disadvantage not intended by a rule.
- 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. It is legal to hang on the ring if a
player is avoiding an injury to himself or herself or another player.
- The backboard has nothing to do with goaltending. Goaltending is
contacting the ball on its downward flight, above the level of the rim,
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 it still on the way up and not in the imaginary cylinder above the
basket. Slapping the backboard is neither basket interference nor is it
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. The
ball cannot pass over a rectangular backboard from either direction. The
back of a backboard is out of bounds as well as the supporting
- The traveling rule is one of the most misunderstood rules in basketball.
To start a dribble, the ball must be released before the pivot foot is
lifted. On a pass or a shot, 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. 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, that player may sit up without violating.
- During a fumble the player is not in control of the ball, and therefore,
cannot be called for a traveling violation. A fumble is the accidental
loss of player control when the ball is unintentionally dropped or slips
from a player’s grasp. After a player has ended a dribble and fumbled
the ball, that player may recover the ball without violating. Any steps
taken during the recovery of a fumble are not traveling, regardless of
how far the ball goes and the amount of advantage that is gained. It is
always legal to recover a fumble, even at the end of a dribble, however
that player cannot begin a new dribble, which would be a double dribble
violation. A player who fumbles the ball when receiving a pass may
legally start a dribble.
- The shooter can retrieve his or her own air ball, if the referee
considers it to be a shot attempt. The release ends team control. It is
not a violation for that player to start another dribble at that point.
When an airborne player keeps control of an attempted shot that is
blocked and is unable to release the ball and returns to the floor with
it, that player has not traveled; it is a jump ball. If, in this
situation, the shooter releases the ball, then this is simply a blocked
shot and play continues.
- Palming or carrying is when a player gains an advantage when the ball
comes to rest in the player's hand, and the player either travels with
the ball, or 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. Steps taken during a dribble are not traveling,
including several that are sometimes taken when a high dribble takes
place. It is not possible for a player to travel during a dribble.
- A player inbounding the ball may step on, but not over the line. During
a designated spot throwin, 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 the five-second time limit or space
allows. If player moves outside the three-foot wide designated spot it is
a violation, not travelling. In gymnasiums with limited space outside the
sidelines and end lines, a defensive player may be asked to step back no
ore than three feet.
- The defender may not break the imaginary plane during a throwin. If the
defender breaks the imaginary plane during a throwin, the defender’s team
will receive a warning. Any subsequent violations 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, but has five
seconds to release the ball and it must come directly onto the court. The
ball can always be passed into the backcourt during a throwin. This
situation is not a backcourt violation.
- If a player's momentum carries him or 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. That player must have something in and nothing out. It is not
necessary to have both feet back inbounds.
- If a blind screen is set on 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
shot attempt. Striking a ball handler or a shooter on that player's hand
that is incidental to an attempt to play the ball is not a foul, no
matter how loud it sounds or how much it hurts.
- Reaching in is not a foul. The term is nowhere to be found in any
rule book. There must be contact to have a foul. The mere act of reaching
in, by itself, is nothing. 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
- Over the back is not a foul. The term is nowhere to be found in any
rule book. 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 charge. A
defender may turn away or duck to absorb contact, provided he or she has
already established legal guarding position, which is 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 foul.
- The mere fact that contact occurs does not constitute a foul. Incidental
contact is contact with an opponent which is permitted and does not
constitute a foul. 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. Contact which does not hinder an opponent from
participating in normal defensive or offensive movements should be
- A ten-second count continues when the defense deflects or bats the ball
in the backcourt. 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 frontcourt.
- During a throwin, even under a team’s own basket, if the throwin is
deflected, tipped, or batted by an offensive player in the frontcourt to
an offensive player in the backcourt; or after a missed field goal
attempt or a missed foul shot attempt, if the ball is deflected, tipped,
or batted by an offensive player in the frontcourt to an offensive player
in the backcourt; these are not a backcourt violations. In both cases
team control, a player holding or dribbling the ball, has not yet been
- During a throwin or jump ball, any player; or a defensive player, in
making a steal; may legally 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
- The closely guarded rule is in effect in frontcourt only, when a defender
is within six feet of the ball handler. Up to three separate five-second
counts may occur on the same ball handler, holding, dribbling, and
holding. The count continues even if defenders switch. The five-second
count ends when a dribbler gets his or her head and shoulders ahead of
- The intent of the three-second rule is to not allow an offensive player
to gain an advantage. Referees will not call this violation if the
player is not gaining an advantage. There is no three-second count
between the release of a shot and the control of a rebound, at which time
a new count starts. There is no three-second count during a throwin.
There is no three-second count while the ball is in the backcourt.
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.
- The head coach may request and be granted a timeout if his or her player
is holding or dribbling the ball, or during a dead ball period. A player
saving the ball in the air can ask for and be granted a timeout even if
that player is going out of bounds. The key is whether or not the player
has control of the ball.
- On free throws, there is a maximum of two offensive players and four
defensive players in the six marked 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 rim or backboard
before entering the lane. During a free throw, no opponent, including
bench personnel, may disconcert the free thrower.
- Kicking the ball is intentionally striking it with any part of the leg or
foot. An unintentionally kicked ball is never illegal, regardless of how
far the ball goes and who recovers it. It is also illegal to hit the ball
with a fist.
- Players may not participate while wearing jewelry. Religious medals or
medical alert medals are not considered jewelry. A religious medal must
be taped and worn under the uniform. A medical alert medal must be taped
and may be visible. Headbands must be made of a single colored cloth.
Rubber or cloth elastic bands may be used to control hair. Undershirts
must be similar in color to the jersey and shall not have frayed or
ragged edges. State associations may on an individual basis, allow a
player to participate while wearing a head covering, if it is worn for
medical or religious reasons, provided that the covering is not abrasive,
hard, or dangerous, and is attached in such a way that it is highly
unlikely to come off during play. Written documentation should be
- Officials are not required to explain judgment calls, but they may
explain some calls if approached by the head coach in a respectful
manner. Officials have been instructed to call technical fouls for
profanity, unsporting acts and excessive complaints or verbal abuse.
- Officials do not make calls that decide the outcome of a game. Players
commit fouls and violations; officials view those infractions, judge
the action, and then apply the rules of the game to what they had viewed.
The rules then determine the penalty. Officials are on the court to be
the only unbiased arbiters of the game. Officials are not concerned with
who wins or loses, but only fairness and safety. Everyone else in that
gym cares about winning, and therefore cannot look at the game
[Edited by BillyMac on Oct 13th, 2005 at 11:49 PM]
International Association of Approved Basketball Officials
Central Connecticut Board #6
"One Rule Plus One Mechanic Plus One Interpretation Equals The Board #6 Way"