Anthony's International Basketball Officiating Site

Copyright © 1996–2009 Anthony Reimer

Ask Ace About Fouls

Note: These questions were updated to relect the rules in play as of the 2003–04 season. Updates have not been made reflecting subsequent changes to the rules.

Q: Player A1 is fouled in the act of shooting and is awarded free throws. Due to injury, Player A1 is not able to shoot the free throws. Who determines the replacement shooter for Player A1? I was under the impression that the opposing team can select a player from Team A who currently is not in the game and still eligible to play.

A:In all rules except the NBA, the Coach of Team A makes the decision. Whomever goes in to sub for the injured player is the person who takes the throws. In the NBA, it is as you state if the player is injured but not because of an unsportsmanlike act like the foul itself, in which case the Team A coach could pick anyone to take the throw.

Q: If a player on the offensive team sets a stationary pick for one of his teammates and a defender inadvertantly runs into him is the defender guilty of a foul?

A: No. When the person who is being (legally) screened knows that the screen is there, they must try to avoid or minimise contact. In the case of a blind screen like you describe, they do not know the screen is there until they hit it. If the player is moving quite fast, the contact could be quite violent, yet there would be no foul. The only time that there is a foul when a player contacts a legal screen is when the player being screened finds the screen (visually or with contact) and then intentionally tries to push through the screen rather than go around it.

Q:Player A3 attempts a 3-pointer. After the ball leaves his hands, opponent B2 fouls A1 in the lane and the referee calls it. What should happen next:

  1. Player A3 that was shooting but not involved in the foul should go to the line?
  2. Player A1 that got fouled in the lane should either shoot the penalty (bonus) or take the ball out on the side?

A: In all rules except NBA:

In some situations, a team could get the basket and the ball (this is often referred to as "double jeopardy"). The NBA rule avoids this problem:

Q: What exactly is the difference between a bench foul and a foul on a coach? [NCAA/NF Rules]

A: For the bench T, both the coach and the specific offender (if known) get charged with a T. Three Ts and the coach is ejected. But if the T is for personal misconduct, two Ts of this type are sufficient for the coach to be ejected. That is the major difference. If the referees doing the game are good, they'll save the scorekeeper the trouble of having to distinguish between the types – on the second T for being a bad boy/girl, they will give the coach the heave ho automatically.

Q: Several of us have a bet going over the issue of technical fouls vs. personal fouls in the NBA and NCAA. The question is whether a player assessed a technical foul is also assessed a personal foul in (a) the NBA, and in (b) the NCAA? Also, is a technical foul counted as a team foul in either the NBA or NCAA?

A: The answer to question 1, parts (a) and (b) is no, but that's a little simplistic. First of all, it is not possible to pick up both a personal and a technical foul for a single act (this applies in ALL rule sets). Rule books clearly deliniate what qualifies as a personal foul and when - technical fouls are basically fouls that don't qualify as a personal foul.

What I presume you are trying to get at is whether a T counts as one of the 5 or 6 fouls a player has before they foul out. The NBA and NCAA deal with technical fouls in a totally different manner. In the NBA, Ts are totally separate from personal fouls. If you get 2 Ts, you are automatically ejected; if you get 6 personals, you foul out. Only personal fouls count towards the team foul total (offensive fouls - even off-ball - are excluded).

The foul-out structure used to be similar in the NCAA, but a few years ago (in the early '90s if my memory serves me correctly), they adopted a philosophy more like FIBA (International rules). In FIBA, a player foul is a player foul. If a player receives 5 fouls (personal and technical combined), they foul out. All player fouls (P + T) go towards the team foul limit.

In the NCAA, it's a little bit more of a hodge-podge. A player is disqualified when they receive any comination of 5 "personal, unsporting or contact technical fouls." Those fouls also are team fouls. The type of technicals that don't count towards the team foul count or a player's 5 fouls are minor infractions, such as delay of game or hanging on the ring. (Coach fouls don't count as team fouls in any rules.)

Q: If a player attempts a shot at the other teams basket by accident and is fouled by the other team in the process, does that player who is fouled while shooting get to go shoot two shots at his or her own basket? I was under the assumption that it should be taken out of bounds because it happened in the backcourt and no one team was over the foul limit.

A: If a player shoots at the wrong basket, he/she is not in the act of shooting, as a shot is defined as being directed at a player's own basket in U.S. rules (at your opponent's basket in FIBA - only a semantic difference). So when the foul is committed, the play becomes dead immediately (i.e. the basket, if good, shall not count), and the offended team shall be awarded the ball out of bounds (unless the team is over the team foul limit). I mean, can you imagine: you would have to give them 3 free throws because they were behind the 3-point line when they attempted the "shot"; doesn't make a lot of sense. Note: I had this interpretation confirmed by the national rules interpreter for Canada in October 1998.

Q: I know you are not allowed to handcheck but is a defender who is guarding the man dribbling the ball allowed to put his forearm on him for a second. He is not keeping it there but just using it so the offensive player doesn't get a great advantage.

A: You mentioned "(U.S.) College" in your message header, so the answer is no - it is a foul. In the NBA, it is a slightly different matter. It is also a different matter if the player is protecting him/herself from a player who is backing in to his/her already established (i.e. legal) space - your questions says "put his forearm on him", which is not a defensive act. That may raise a few questions itself, but it should answer the basic question.

Q: This question pertains to a men's NCAA basketball game. Situation: A technical foul is called on a player from team A.
Question 1: How many free throw attempts is team B awarded?
Question 2: Who designates the shooter of the above free throw(s).
Question 3: Can a player currently sitting on team B's benchbe selected as the free thrower?

A: 1. Two free throws.
2. The shooting team (B in this case).
3. Certainly. In fact, once they complete the throws, they may go right back to the bench, so long as it is yet anotherplayer who subs in.

Q: I have a question regarding screening. A1 sets a screen on B1 to free up one of his teammates. Instead of trying to fight through the screen B1 runs through it (ie. Runs through A1 sending him flying). Is this a personal foul on B1? Should the official try to determine if the act was deliberate or incidental? If it is a deliberate act is this foul considered unsportsmanlike? Or if the act was incidental contact is it a no call?

A: A well-thought out question which deserves a similar answer. From the way you ask the question, it sounds like you already sense what the correct answer is. Let me break the situation down a bit further, remembering that this is a legal screen we are talking about.

Once the player being screened (B1) is aware of the screen (A1), it is their responsibility to minimise contact. So there are two main scenarios: (1) the player (B1) sees the screen before contact, or (2) the player contacts the screen (A1), which is when (s)he becomes aware of it (i.e. blind screen).

In (1), B1 should move around A1. If the screener is displaced because of excess contact, it is a foul on B1. In (2), once the player makes contact, they are now aware of the screen, and should try to minimise further contact. Realise that this particular contact might be quite severe, but is not a foul at this point.

In both cases, once the screen is noticed, if B1 tries to continue on his path and runs over A1, it is a foul on B1. The intent is the key. As you rightly suggest, if the player tries to not only run though the defender, but goes over the line (e.g., throws an elbow, drops a hard shoulder into the player), it could be unsportsmanlike.

Let me give you a scenario that actually happened to me to make the rest clearer. Player A1 rebounds the ball and begins to progress up court rapidly. B1 guards A1, moving rapidly with her, completely focussing on her opponent. A2 sets a legal screen 2 full steps away from B1. B1 is running at full speed when she contacts A2. A2 is moved slightly, but B1 falls to the floor in a heap and needs to be attended to. A1 moves the ball up the court, leading to a Team A score (by A2, ironically enough).

Ruling: No call. Even if both players had fallen to the floor, it's still a no-call because the girl had no clue the defender was there, and she didn't knock her down to get past her. A2's screen has had the desired result: to free up the player with the ball. Needless to say, the coach for team B was not happy, even though the screen was perfectly legal. The fact that it was his daughter in a heap on the floor didn't help. :-)

Q: [NCAA Rules] My wife and I need some help in understanding basketball foul rules, such as: A. Team fouls: How are they different from personal fouls? What are the results of having team fouls - free throws or what? Does a team have to make a certain number of team fouls before personal fouls count? B. Personal fouls: sometimes it seems that a fouled player gets a second shot only if he makes the first one? Is this correct?

A: I can answer those two questions at once, since they are related. Team Fouls vary depending on the rules you play by, but I will use NCAA rules based on your specific question. A team foul is any foul by a player involving contact with an opponent or unsportsmanlike conduct (technical foul). Note: Most technical fouls on coaches are not team fouls. The team fouls are tallied up each half. If a team commits 7 team fouls in a half, that foul and any subsequent foul shall be penalised by free throws. If a player is fouled in the act of shooting, that penalty shall be the one applied regardless of the number of team fouls committed. (This also applies to technical fouls, since the penalty is more severe.) Otherwise, on the 7th, 8th, and 9th fouls, the player fouled shall receive one shot, and, if (s)he is successful, a "bonus" free throw is awarded. On the 10th and all subsequent team fouls by a team, the penalty shall be two shots.

One minor exception to this rule: if the team currently in control of the ball commits the foul, no free throws are awarded, regardless of the team foul count (it does count as a team foul, however). [Prior to 2002–03, the player with the ball had to commit the foul for there to be no shots. This change brings the NCAA in line with the rest of the rules commonly used.]

Q: We've had discussions at our high school basketball officials' chapter meetings regarding when a player is fouled in the act of shooting while going for the basket. Many say it's a shooting foul if he/she gets fouled as soon as he/she ends the dribble. Others say the player had to at least make some attempt at throwing the ball towards his/her basket. Any opinions on this would be appreciated.

A: The various rulebooks describe it as the "habitual motion" that precedes a shot. It is certainly possible for a shot attempt to begin as soon as the player picks up his/her dribble. The most common example of this is a layup. In that instance, the player intends to shoot well before the dribble is picked up, but by rule, it is only a shooting foul if the dribble has ended. But an instant after the dribble has ended....

The comment that the player must make a throwing motion in order for it to be a shooting foul is nonsense. The player must intend to do so, but if contact prevents the completion of the shot, it can still be a shooting foul.

Here is an extreme example that actually happened to me in a game: player A1 is a few feet away from the basket, facing the side of the backboard. When A1 starts what appears to be a try for goal, he is in front of the backboard and well-positioned to score. Player B1 illegally bumps A1 while A1 is airborne, moving A1 to a position where he is now behind the backboard. A1 (still airborne) now realises that a shot is impossible from behind the backboard, so he passes the ball to A2, who is standing near the free throw line.

Ruling: The referee (me) calls a foul on B1 and awards two shots to A1, as he was in the act of shooting when contact occurred.

If I had any doubt that he had intended to shoot, I would have taken the "path of least resistance" and called the foul on the pass. But there was no question he was shooting. I decided that I would not penalise the shooter because he was smart enough to try and continue playing, not counting on me to make the call. Although not everyone would take the path I did in that situation, by rule it was correct. The fact that he eventually passed the ball is really of no consequence.

Often, when doing recreational leagues ("Senior Men's", as we call it, for example), we use this line to explain a shooting foul when the player never released the ball: "That player is ALWAYS shooting when he gets the ball anywhere near the hole!" As long as the official judges that the player is making a continuous attempt for goal, they get shots, no matter how early in the drive contact occurs; no matter if the drive is completed or not.

Q: If a player is going to the basket with the basketball and two defensive players go to stop him and make contact, is it possible to call a personal foul on both defensive players if they make contact with the offensive player?

A: Possible, but extremely unlikely. Normally, you penalise the first foul and ignore the subsequent contact unless it is unsportsmanlike. In the case where two players foul a shooter at approximately the same time (e.g., one player hits the shooter's arm, while one makes illegal contact with his torso), you pick which one came first (or, more likely, which contact truly put the shooter at a disadvantage). Let's put it this way: in my 20+ years of refereeing, I have not seen a call made like the one you suggest.

Q: My question is regarding moving screens. In order for a moving screen violation to be called, doesn't the defensive player have to be physically obstructed by the offensive player in motion?

A: First of all, illegal screening is not a violation, it is a foul (yes, a technical point, but violations and fouls have different penalties and implications). If I understand your statement correctly, you have got it right. A "moving screen" is not illegal if there is no contact involved. In that case, it is called "running around", which is quite common in basketball! :-) Should (illegal) contact occur, and the screener places his opponent at a disadvantage, then it is a foul.

Q: I played high school basketball and now I play rec ball every week. The thing is this: One of the rec player keeps vehemently insisting that "the hand is part of the ball" - so if player A contacts player B on the hand while player B is in the act of shooting then there is NO foul. So, is it a foul or not? To me it's obvious that it is a foul but i just want to make sure. Do you think you could help me out?

A: First of all, I want to thank Bradley Batt ( for forwarding this question to me, since it came from a Canadian domain. US and FIBA rules are the same on this one. When the hand is in contact with the ball (not just shooting, but holding and dribbling the ball as well), it is considered "part of the ball," as the rec player suggests. Any contact with a hand on the ball is considered incidental and is not penalised. That should confirm what Brad has said. Sorry about that.

Q: I am a post up player who likes to fade away to compensate for my severe lack of vertical game. While being guarded by players who cannot stop the shot because of lack of quickness or size they have resorted to throwing a hand up into my face, fully obscuring my view.

This annoys me, as the though of getting poked in the eye is not something I relish. In 99% of the cases contact has not been made, however once or twice my nose has been tweaked and a foul called. When I call a foul, where no contact has been made, the defense gets quite mad. They contend that they haven't done anything outside the confines of playing good tough defense.

So, is it legal for a defensive player to place their hands directly in front of the offensive players eyes when the offensive player is in the act of shooting?

A: In short, the answer is yes. Let me quickly qualify that by saying if it is an "ooga booga", flailing hands type of defence, then it could be a technical foul. It cannot be a personal foul, as no contact has been made. The fact that you are shooting is not an issue (in fact, as someone with the ball, you should expect to be guarded).Basically, if the player is in good defensive position, does not make contact, and does not commit an unsportsmalike act (such as taunting or wildly waving hands), putting a "hand in his face" is perfectly legal. Perhaps that's why you see some post players wearing goggles!

Q: The offensive player drives the lane for a layup. The defender goes up for the block. How much body contact is allowed on the block, and what if the contact is delayed?

A: There is no easy answer to this question because it is a matter of interpretation and situation. Because of this, I'm going to describe the process an official would go through to decide the matter (a basic understanding of the block/charge rule is a "given").

The officiating axiom "referee the defence" applies here. If a leaglly-positioned defender does nothing wrong, then all you need to judge is if the contact is enough for the offensive player to gain an advantage. If so, it is an offensive foul; if not, it is ruled "incidental" and no call is made. A no-call is quite common when the contact is not enough to displace the opponent from their spot.

However, if the defender loses their legal guarding position (or never establishes one properly), or moves under an airborne shooter, for instance, and contact occurs, then it is the defender rather the offensive player that is responsible for contact. Once again, the referee must judge whether the contact was "incidental" and should be ignored, or whether the shooter was disadvantaged and a foul should be called.

With respect to your last point about contact being delayed, different rules have different philosophies about contact after the shooter releases the ball. But in general, contact after release of the ball is considered incidental if it is not severe or unsportsmanlike.

Q: Is an elbow allowed by the offensive player while he is pivoting in the post?

A: A player is allowed to have elbows. He is not allowed to push, injure, or hold an opponent with them. :-) (Note that not all contact is a foul; the referee must rule whether contact was incidental or if an advantage was gained.)

Q: I have tried to locate in FIBA the definition of loose ball foul and can find nothing. Can you offer a definition or explain what happens in the way the shot is made that a loose ball occurs?

A: The reason you can't find anything is because the NBA is the only league in the world that has a "loose ball foul." They use this terminology to describe a foul where neither team is in immediate control of the ball. This is important in the NBA, since they don't count offensive fouls in the team foul count (for shooting penalty). In FIBA, if player A1 fumbled the ball and while the ball was rolling around loose on the floor, player A2 fouled opponent B1 while trying to recover the ball, it would be an offensive foul, since Team A is still deemed to have team control until a shot is taken or Team B gains possession. In the NBA, that would be a loose ball foul. A rebounding situation is the most common type of "loose ball foul."

Q: There's something I think you haven't mentioned in you website about offensive fouls: when a player commits an offensive foul but he's still able to make the basket. I know in FIBA it is considered a basket and in the NBA/NCAA/NF it isn't.

A: That's not quite correct. If a shooter has the ball, then makes illegal contact with the defender (e.g., charging foul), and then releases the ball, the basket if made does not count in ALL current basketball rules: FIBA, NBA, WNBA, NCAA, and NF. US rules have experimented with the so-called "airborne shooter" rule, but have not always stuck with it. Currently, I believe only the NBA, WNBA and NCAA Women use this rule, which extends the time period of offensive/player control foul until an airborne shooter returns to the ground after releasing the shot. In NCAA Men's rules and FIBA, if a shooter charges an opponent after releasing the ball, the basket, if made, shall count. (I'm not sure about NF.)

Q: Alright, could you break down the rules for me concerning hand checking or using a forearm in post defense in order to maintain your established area of the floor (as opposed to pushing the offensive player out)? Watching the NBA, forearms and handchecks are all over the place, but in my reading of the FIBA rules, it seems that it is explicitly a foul. Could you please clear this up for me? It seems to me that not using your arms at all when a player is backing in is really crappy. Is it just one of those cases where it should officially be a foul but no one calls it? Help!

A: I don't think I can be a lot of help on this one. Handchecking and other contact are covered by the rules, but it is the application that is the issue. Not only does it vary from league to league, it can vary from game to game. This is why the people who make the rules issue interpretation bulletins, publish casebooks (i.e. play situations with rulings), and produce videotapes. These clarify various play situations and help officials decide if an advantage has been gained (which is the primary reason for calling a foul).

For example, in the NBA, they have tried to codify post play a bit: if you put two hands on the back of a post player, or a forearm and one hand, or both forearms, it is a foul. A forearm alone on a player backing in (ostensibly to protect the position you already have) is generally OK. In the NCAA, use of the forearm alone is often a foul. In FIBA, it varies a bit by where you are in the world.

Q: Has there been any rule change regarding the situation where a defender sets a screen on the offensive player dribbling the ball? I have always been under the impression that the defender had to be in a stationary position (planted) at least one full stride away from the person he was trying to screen, whether or not that person was the ball carrier. We had a ref rule that it did not require a full stride if the screen was on the person dribbling the ball. Right of wrong?

A: The referee is right. This is a rule that 10 - 15 years ago we called quite poorly, at least where I'm from. The rule itself has not changed at all; officials just call it correctly more often now. You are not the only one who has this mistaken impression, however. Let's debunk some myths here.

Myth #1: The defender has to be in a stationary position (planted).

The defender must initially establish a legal guarding position. To establish this position, yes, you need to get both feet on the floor while facing your opponent (the same position coaches instruct players to take regularly). Once established, as long as the player maintains defensive position (i.e. doesn't get beat), (s)he does not have to be "stationary" or "planted" to draw a charge. Generally, if a defender in a legal guarding position takes contact "in the numbers", the offensive player is responsible for the contact. Both feet do not have to be on the floor at the time of contact; the player could even be moving backwards to minimize impact. (There are exceptions regarding airborne players, which are dealt within the next point.)

Myth #2: The defender must give the ball handler a step.

"The player with the ball must expect to be guarded." This is the philosophy of the rules. Any distance short of contact with the ballhandler is legal when establishing initial guarding position. Here's a situation I had in a college game recently: a shot goes up and there is a long rebound. The guard gets the rebound and wants to push the ball up the floor quickly. What she doesn't notice is that a defender has established a legal guarding position almost directly behind her, outside of her field of vision. As soon as the player with the ball takes a pivot step upcourt, she contacts the defender, sending her to the floor. Call: offensive foul. (And no, the offensive player didn't like the call. But it was correct.) Again, there is an exception with an airborne player: if you establish position while the ballhandler is in the air, you must give them their landing spot. If the ballhandler lands with both feet and then proceeds to contact the defender, the offensive player isresponsible for the contact.

These situations are called "guarding" situations; when you are defending a player without the ball, it is a "screening" situation. Screening situations may require time and distance; guarding situations only require that you establish a legal position, which could be less than a step away.