Anthony's International Basketball Officiating Site

Copyright © 1996–2009 Anthony Reimer

Ask Ace About Other Rules

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

Q: In a game played under FIBA Rules, a player attempts a shot, but the ball lodges between the backboard and the ring. The referees call a jump ball situation. Under the recently revised rule, the game resumes with a throw-in from out-of-bounds for one of the teams, as determined by the possession arrow (alternating possession rule). The team who does not have possession of the ball for throw-in from out-of-bounds requests a substitution. Shall the substitution be allowed?

A: Either team may substitute. The substitution rule has not changed; if there is a violation (e.g., out-of-bounds, travel, shot clock violation), the team who is awarded the throw-in must want to substitute for the other team to be allowed to do so. Just like in the previous rules, if there is a foul or a jump ball/held ball situation, either team may substitute. The only difference in the new rules is that since no players will be involved in an actual jump ball, all players may be substituted.


Q: In a recent game, played under FIBA Rules, the following occurred: Team A was on team fouls (i.e. Team B would be shooting bonus/penalty) and the table had the marker up. At least one ref was aware of this. However, Player A1 then committed their fifth foul but instead of awarding the free throws, theref gave possesion to Team B whoscored a basket. At this point, my colleague on the table buzzed and pointed out the error of the missed free throws. After discussing with both coaches (who were ableto confirm that the team foul marker had been in place), the refereesaid it was a "CorrectableError," gave the basket as good, and then awarded the "missed" free throws toTeam B.

I looked this up in the rule book and have also discussed it withseveral refs on another website, who confirm this was the correct course ofaction. However, one ref then said "yes, but read rule 58.3.3," so I did andit seems to contradict what the others said! So what was the correct thingto do??

A: Prior to 2000, the officials would have been correct. However, one of the problems with the Correctable Error rule (modelled after the NCAA rule) is the exact situation you describe. In 2000, FIBA modified the rule (in a sensible way, if you ask me) as you read in 58.3.3, so that if you scored a basket, you couldn't get also the free throws, since that would be penalising the offending team twice.

So while the error was still within the correctable error time frame, 58.3.3 means that the missed free throws should have been ignored and the ball should have been awarded to Team B on the baseline (with the ability to run the baseline as after any successful basket).

Note: The officials would have been correct in NCAA Rules, as the NCAA has not yet adopted this sensible change.


Q: We can't seem to agree on the definition of an "assist." Can you supply good definition(s) for high school, college, NBA and International (FIBA)?

A:No. These are not in the rule book, but are instead are part of the statistician's manual put out by each league (assuming one is put out at all). These documents are not widely available, and they can vary by league, not just by rule set. I simply recommend that if you are trying to keep stats yourself (for you or your child's team, for instance), just make a standard and stick to it. If you are working with kids, I suggest that the standard be more generous.

Note: The NCAA has now made their Statisticians' Manual available online. See the Hoop Links page for a direct link.


Q: B1 is shooting 2 free throws. Before the first A6 subs for A1. After the first shot A7 request to sub for A6. Is this legal?

A: Absolutely - it is explicitly permitted in the rule book. But A1 and A6 cannot go back in until after the clock has started.


Q: Can a player changes his/her jersey (i.e. #) then tell the scorer and substitute without penalty?

A: Yes. That is in fact what they must do if they change their playing number.


Q: What is the minimum size that a basketball court can be and still be considered an official court?

A: It depends on the set of rules. NBA Rules does not allow variation; the court must be 94 feet long and 50 feet wide. FIBA Rules insists on full size for international play (28 m x 15 m, about the same as 94 x 50 ft.), but allows it to be as small as 26 m x 14 m for other games. NCAA and National Federation (U.S. High School) Rules do not specify a minimum; they specify a maximum size (94 x 50) and an optimum size (NCAA: 94 x 50; NF: 84 x 50), but do not set any minimums. [Updated for 1998-2002 FIBA Rules.]


Q: In FIBA Rules, when free throws and side line possession are to be awarded to a team (that is, the players do not line up along the key during the free throws), where do the other nine players stand? I have always believed that the only need to stand away from the key usually out of the shooter's line of vision. However, a fellow from Zimbabwe swears that the rule is that the other players must all stand behind the half line. Which is it?

A: On any set of free throws where the last throw is not live if missed (a two-and-possession penalty being the most common), players may not line up in the designated lane spaces. "Yes, yes, that's nice, but that doesn't answer my question," I might hear you say. But I have indeed given you the answer. On a "normal" free throw, any player who is not in a marked lane space must be behind the free throw line extended and the 3-point arc. Since it is not legal to be in a marked lane space in the situation we are discussing, all 9 players must meet this requirement.

The fellow from Zimbabwe must be too familiar with the U.S. game, as what he states is indeed the rule there (e.g., NCAA rules).


Q: There seem to be some different rules between the various governing bodies regarding how teams line up for free throws. Could you clarify the differences?

A: In brief, there are two basic line-up arrangements: the one used in NF & NCAA, and the one used in the NBA & FIBA (International play). In both cases, teams are entitled to alternating spots on the lane, with the opponents of the free throw shooter getting the spots closest to the basket. In NF/NCAA, as many as 8 players can be on the lane (4 each side), and you could have 5 from one team, as any vacant spot can be filled by an opponent. The two spots closest to the hoop must be occupied by an opponent of the shooter. In NBA/FIBA, only a maximum of 5 players may be on the lane: 3 opponents of the shooter and 2 teammates. In the NBA, the lower 4 spots must be filled on the final throw; in FIBA, any of the spots may be empty, but must remain empty if the team entitled to them does not fill it.

For players not in marked lane spots, they must remain outside the three point arc and behind the free throw line extended until the ball strikes the ring in NF, NCAA, and FIBA rules (the NBA rule is somewhat more liberal).

[Editorial note: Since this question was answered, NCAA has moved towards the NBA/FIBA standard. NF still allows 8 players to line up on the lane.]


Q: Last night we were playing in a tournament a distance from our home area. We were trailing late in the game and I instructed my girls to call time when we scored. We stole the ball on the press and promptly scored. The girls and our bench were all calling for a timeout as soon as the ball went in. The referee would not allow the timeout saying, "We didn't have possession of the ball."

My understanding is that the ball is dead until the opposition plays the ball back in from under the basket. Your comment please.

A: First of all, I am going to assume that you are playing National Federation Rules (i.e. U.S. High School Rules). Under such rules, you may call a timeout when the ball is dead. So after you score a field goal, you have from the time the ball passes through the hoop until an opponent takes the ball out of bounds for the throw-in (to be very clear, the throw-in does not have to be completed; your opportunity to call a timeout ends as soon as an official would start the five-second throw-in count). So depending on the circumstances, that window could be anywhere from a few seconds to mere tenths of a second.


Q: What is the proper ruling when a ball becomes lodged between the rim and the backboard?

A: Jump Ball. In NCAA and U.S. High School, this would lead to an alternating possession situation. In the NBA and FIBA, a jump ball would occur at the top of the key between any two opponents.


Q: [U.S. Rules - Alternating Possession] On the opening tip, the center from Team A taps the ball in the direction of his teammate. The ball glances off his leg and goes out ot bounds. Team B gets possession and inbounds the ball. If there were no other "held ball" situation throughout the first half, which team gets possession to open the 2nd half? I say that Team A gets possesion to start the half because Team A never established possession of the ball during the tip sequence. The Ref said otherwise. Who was right?

A: The way you have told the story, you would be correct. Once the throw-in by Team B (after the tip out of bounds) ends, the arrow is switched to Team A.


Q: What do the regs. say about how high the ceiling (of the gym) should be?

A: NCAA and NF (U.S. High School) suggest 25 feet or higher if possible. But as you imply, it is a regulation, not a rule in those books. In FIBA, the minimum height is 7 m (approx. 23 feet).


Q: A game is in a third extra period and each team has only 2 players left on the court. As the game continues, 1 player of each team jumps for the ball and both fall down. They both cramp up and cannot continue the game. So each team left with only 1 player. In this situation, what should be my decision as referee? Should I give both team a loss by default? Or should I give the team leading at the time the win? What if the score is tied? Should I wait until the players get treatment to continue again? If the player still can't play after treatment? I know that this situation is very unlikely to occur but I would like to know your point of view. [FIBA Rules]

A: When there are no substitutes available, a player may stay in the game even if they receive treatment. So if it is a minor injury and can be treated on the court (like a cramp), the player should be allowed to continue without penalty. Now if the injury is more serious, and the player truly cannot continue, their team would forfeit. In the situation you describe, if each team was reduced to one player on the same play, it would be a double forfeit, with a final score of 0 - 0.


Q: I grew up on American rules and I am now coaching under FIBA rules. How much control does the ref have over the crowd? Can fans run around the court as the game is on or a player is shooting a free throw? Even if the fans are outside the playing area, can a ref ask them not to climb on fences and not to display unsportsmanlike conduct?? In other words, can a ref call a techinical foul on a crowd for such actions?

A: Basically, no. There is no provision in the rules to penalise a team for poor crowd behaviour like there is in the NCAA. The referee may choose to have game management/security deal with spectator problems that spill onto the vicinity of the court, but otherwise, FIBA referees stay out of crowd issues.


Q: I went to the Jazz-Suns pre-season game (Fall 1997) and noticed the new half circle in the key. What the heck is this thing? I've read nba.com rules and found nothing but the size and stuff.

A: Iit is the new "no-charge" zone. That is, if a defender is standing within the semi-circle and the offensive player drives to the basket, running over the defender (usually after release of the ball), no foul would be called. The premise: if the defender is that close to the basket, they're not playing good defence and should not be rewarded.


Q: I was doing a very fast senior boys game when there was a scramble for a loose ball. Team B gets the ball and turns to shoot at the basket. As he goes up for a shot, he is bumped by another team B player. The official blew the whistle and then realized that it was his own teammate that had made contact with him. What is your call? I will tell you what the official did: since the player B2 had already shot the ball and then contact occured he just call a jump ball and went with the arrow. [Federation Rules]

A: Based on what you have said, the ruling would be correct. In an inadvertant whistle situation, you determine where the ball was at the time of the whistle. If it's still in the shooter's hands, the ball becomes dead immediately, no gaol can be scored, but team B would get the ball back. If the shot was in the air, score it if it goes, but otherwise jump ball (Alternating Possession in Federation and NCAA). If the ball had been secured on a rebound already, let that team have the ball for the throw-in.

It's an unfortunate situation, but you don't have much choice.


Q: [US Rules] Player A is inbounding the ball under his own basket. He throws to Player B near center court. He throws it too hard, and without hitting anyone, it goes into the backcourt. Player B starts to run after it, sees that he can't get to it in time, and calls and motions for a timeout while the ball is still inbounds. The referee granted the timeout. Was this a correct call under any set of basketball rules?

A: No. The player's team must be in control of the ball. Clearly, if the player cannot reach the ball, he is not in control (and I am assuming no other teammate is about to pick up the ball). The NBA and NCAA/NF rules are the same in this case, but they do differ in other respects. In FIBA (International) Rules, timeouts are not called from the floor, so this is a non-issue.


Q: I looked up the official dimensions for a backboard and only found it one place, so I would like to bounce my results off of you and see what you think about them. The mesurment I came up with was a backboard that would be 1.8 meters horizontally and 1.05 vertically. This would make the backboard just slightly under 6 feet wide!!!??? I've never seen a backboard that wide!!! Can you give me any enlightenment in this area?

A: Those dimensions are indeed correct. In NCAA and NBA Rules, it is exactly 6 feet wide by 3.5 feet high. It used to be 4 feet high, which is still legal in some rules, but too many guys were hitting their elbows, forearms, and even head on the backboard after dunking, so they lopped 6 inches (15 cm) off the bottom. The only backboards to be narrower than that were the old fan-shaped boards, which were 4.5 feet (1.37 m) wide.


Q: Are the ball specifications different among international, NCAA Men, NCAA Women, NBA, WNBA? If different, what are the respective requirements?

A: If we exclude really young players, there are two common sizes of basketball. The standard size is between 29.5 and 30 or 30.5 inches (74.9 cm to 78 cm) in circumference (the variance allowed is determined by the particular rule set). The "small ball" (a.k.a. Size 6) is between 28.5 inches and 29 inches (72.4 and 73.7 cm). Circumference is the major difference between balls used in different leagues. It used to be that the width of the channels used to vary, but this difference appears to have evaporated (0.25 inch / 6.35 mm is now the standard maximum).

In general, men use the larger ball and women the smaller ball. In my area, High Schools Girls also use the smaller ball. Prior to 2004-05, FIBA (International) Women used the same ball as the men.


Q: I know just about all the [NBA] rules except the mandatory TV timeouts. Could you please inform me. I believe the home team is charged one for the first dead ball under 7:00, but my friend pointed out that the road team must also be charge later to make it fair. Can you give me the complete answer, please?

A: I had the good fortune of being a minor official for NBA exhibition games here where I live (in Calgary), and did five years of minor officiating work in a CBA-level summer league using the same basic rules. Here is the scoop (noting that in some playoff games, an extra media timeout is added that complicates this otherwise elegant system):

If neither team has called a full timeout by the time the clock shows 6:59 each quarter, the home team is charged with a time out on the next stoppage (there are a couple of really minor exceptions). If a timeout was called, there is no mandatory time-out at that time.

The next time marker is 2:59. If a second full time out has not been taken, the team not previously charged with a timeout shall be charged. If two full timeouts have been called in the quarter, there is no mandatory time-out. It does not matter which team called the timeout; any two full timeouts will do.

I hope that is clear. It is really a very elegant and unobtrusive way to get TV time-outs into a game. To make it easier to understand, let's pretend the Raptors are playing in Houston. Each teams starts with 6 full timeouts. Here are how the timeouts might be charged:

1st Quarter

8:02 Toronto calls a full time-out (first mandatory eliminated)

2:45 First stoppage since 2:59; Houston charged with a mandatory time-out

2nd Quarter

6:59 Play stopped for a foul; Houston is charged with a mandatory time-out

2:59 Houston requests a full time-out during play (second mandatory is cancelled)
Note: Although the time listed is 2:59, the same would apply if Houston had called it from the floor earlier (or later, if there were no stoppages)

3rd Quarter

9:40 Toronto calls a full timeout (first mandatory eliminated)

8:55 Toronto calls another full timeout (second mandatory eliminated)

4th Quarter

Note: A team may not call more than four timeouts in the 4th Quarter, nor may they call more than three in the last 2 minutes.

6:55 Houston requests a 20 second timeout; since they would normally be charged with a mandatory timeout on this stoppage, a full timeout is charged instead (the 20 second timeout is returned to them)

1:48 Houston requests a 20 second time-out (this is the first stoppage since 2:59); the 20 second timeout is granted; it is followed immediately by a full time-out charged to Toronto.

I think that covers all the most normal scenarios, and would answer any question you might have.

When we get into playoff mode, they appear to add an additional mandatory at 9:59, but it appears to be outside the regular rule. I suspect the TV-charged timeout would get bumped down to the next time marker if a team voluntarily took an early time-out.