Anthony's International Basketball Officiating Site

Copyright © 1996–2009 Anthony Reimer

Ask Ace About Violations — Time Counts

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: My friends and I have a disagreement about the NCAA 5-seconds closely guarded rule. I think that you have 5 seconds to hold it, 5 seconds to dribble (assuming guarded within 6 feet) and 5 seconds to hold it again; i.e. one can hold for 4, dribble for 4 and hold for 4 with no violation. My friends think that it is 5 seconds closely guarded, dribbling or not, so in my previous scenario a violation would be called 1 second into the dribbling. What is the rule?

A: You are correct. One of my least favourite rules, by the way, but you understand it.


Q: Is it possible to call three seconds on a player when the ball is in the air for an attempted field goal? I always thought that the 3 second call is off when a player attemptes a shot.

A: You are correct, the count is over once a shot goes off, but of course, the whistle doesn't always go off before the ball is released.


Q: I'm playing in a basketball league at work, and we had a little disagreement about 3-seconds. Do you need to have one foot completely out of the key or both feet? Assuming it is both feet, and you have one in and one out, can you reset the count by lifting the foot that is in the key and then setting it back down? Also, does it vary between high school, college and the NBA?

A: The problem with the three second rule is that those niggly little details do not mean much. Referees generally call three second violations based on the spirit and intent of the rule. (What a concept!) In reality, a player should touch both feet outside the lane before reentering. But if the player gets themselves out of that vertical space marked by the lane lines, they have really met the intent of the rule. If a player is straddling the lane line and lift the foot in the lane but makes no attempt to draw the foot back outside the lane, you would likely continue the count. These standards apply to all rules, although each set has some minor variations (see the next question for that information).

Having said this, remember that if a player only has a toe inside the lane and they are away from the play, no skilled official would call a violation (as no advantage was gained). With the three second rule, simply ask yourself, "Was an advantage gained that was not intended by rule?" If there was, it is a violation.


Q:I was wondering about 3-second violations. Is [the FIBA rule] any different from the NBA?

A: There are two major differences between the FIBA rule and the NBA rule: in the NBA, the three second count applies only when the ball is in bounds in the front court (in FIBA, the count is in effect whenever a team has control of the ball in bounds), and in the NBA, the three second count is suspended if the ball is loose.


Q: We have an argument going at work. A female co-worker says that in women's NCAA basketball, the offense has no time limit in the backcourt. I say they have the same ten second time limit that the men have. What is the answer?

A: She is correct. They have had a 30 second shot clock for a long time, so that is why they eliminated the 10 second count. It's not a great rule (women have played with a 30 second clock and a ten second count internationally for over a decade), but your co-worker is correct for NCAA Women's rules. (It is the only set of rules I know of with no backcourt count.)


Q: (NCAA/NF Rules question.) I thought that at one time that a closely guarded Person (5 second call) resulted in a jump ball. So you went with the direction of the arrow. Therefore the team having the call made against them could get the ball back. People tell me that it is a violation and the ball is turned over. Which makes sense. Was I right that at one time a 5 second call call was a jump ball and you went with the arrow? Or was I just dreaming?

A: You are partially right. A 5 second closely guarded call was a held ball at one time (up until the early 1980s). The two players involved would contest a jump ball (the arrow had not been instituted at that time). A change was then made to reward good defence and make that situation a violation. Subsequently, the alternating possession arrow was instituted. So, yes, it used to be a held ball, but no, you never went to the arrow to decide the matter. This is my recollection.

As a bit of trivia regarding the 5 second, closely guarded violation, the rule applies only in the front court in NCAA/NF Rules, whereas in FIBA (International) Rules, it applies over the entire court. In NCAA/NF, you need to be within 6 feet (about 2 m) whereas in FIBA, you need to be within 1 m (about 3 feet). In the NBA, there is no closely guarded violation. After all, you were required to play man-to-man until recently, and the shot clock is only 24 seconds.


Q: My wife and I were watching a H.S. game today and the over and back rule was raised. When the offensive player is bringing the ball across the 10 second line, at what point is the player considered across the 10 second line? Is it both feet and the ball or what? Please respond because I cannot find this in the FIBA rules.

A: It is there, but if you didn't know that "over and back" is referred to as the "Ball Returned To Backcourt" rule, it might be hard to find. Let me give you some background and then some play situations to clarify.

"Both feet and the ball" is the American rule - if you are progressing from backcourt (which includes the centre line), you retain back court status until all three "points" are in the front court. (This affects the over-and-back rule as well as the 10 second rule.) This is not the case in FIBA. In FIBA, if you are touching the front court, you have front court status, but it is also possible to be simultaneously in both courts (which is usually a problem if you have the ball :-).

So here are some scenarios:

1a) A player is dribbling the ball in his backcourt (I will use "his", "he", etc. for the sake of brevity). While continuing to dribble, the player steps with one foot into the front court.

Q: Has the 10 second count ended? A: Yes. The player has front court status.
Q: Has the player committed an "Over and Back" violation? A: No (not yet).

1b) Continuing the above scenario, the player lifts the foot in the front court and resumes dribbling entirely in the back court.

Q: Has the player committed an "Over and Back" violation? A: Yes. Without getting into too many details, once a player progressing from the back court to the front court touches the front court with a foot or the ball, he must proceed into the front court with his next manoeuvre. [Note: The action described above is legal in US rules. However, the 10 second count would still be proceeding.]

2a) A player, whose team has the ball in the back court, receives a pass with one foot on either side of the centre line. He stands there for a few seconds (and does not pivot).

Q: Has the player committed an "Over and Back" violation? A: No (not yet).

2b) Continuing the above scenario, the player passes the ball to a teammate in the i) front court, or ii) backcourt. The receiving player touches the ball.

Q: Has the player committed an "Over and Back" violation? A: No in i), Yes in ii).

2c) Instead of passing, as in 2b), the player chooses to dribble towards the front court.

Q: Has the player committed an "Over and Back" violation? A: No. As long as the player is progressing forward, the intent of the rule is being upheld.

3) A player holds the ball in the front court near the centre line. He a) puts down a dribble, with the ball touching the centre line; or b) steps partially on the centre line with one foot; or c) brushes the ball against a teammate who is standing in the back court.

Q: Has the player committed an "Over and Back" violation? A: Yes in all cases. In a), it is not a violation until the ball rebounds into the player's hand (or a teammate, for that matter). On a dribble, that will happen pretty quickly. In b) and c), the violation is called immediately. The centre line is considered to be part of the back court. [This case is the same in both FIBA and US rules.]