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This Weekend, Do Yourself A Favor – Learn The Rules
As you get ready to head to the boys state basketball tournament this weekend, brush up on the rules to save yourself some embarrassment.
Published: 2/25/2019 9:06:07 AM
Paul Kingsbury
General Manager/Broadcaster


This article was originally published last year before the boy's state basketball tournament. I decided to dig it out of the archives and publish it again this year with the hope I can help make the tournaments a little easier for the referees, you and the people sitting around you. With the help of our in-house expert, Lorin Jensen, I added a few more rules that fans seem to still not know or misunderstand. 

Follow me on Twitter: @idahosportspaul

Go back to Foot Locker!

It’s a whistle, not a pacifier!

Zebra, zebra short and stout, find your head and pull it out!

Hey Ref! Your mom called – you suck!

If you had one more eye you'd be a cyclops!

Are you the person in the stands that yells stuff like this? NEWSFLASH: No one likes you.

You might think you look like Katniss Everdeen, leading your side of the gym in a righteous rebellion against the evil cult of basketball officials, but to everyone else you look more like Carl Spackler yelling at a gopher. (Links provided for the readers who don’t watch good movies)

Studies have shown that yelling and screaming at officials makes you look and sound like an unhinged toddler throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart because your mom would only buy Marshmallow Mateys and not real Lucky Charms. Your mom was definitely wrong for not buying the real stuff but, unfortunately for you, the officials are usually ALWAYS right.

From when I started playing the game as a young kid on the asphalt on the “little kids” side of the playground at New Plymouth Elementary School, to the most recent varsity game I called as a broadcaster on, I have seen more than my fair share of basketball over the years. I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of really good friends during that time, and several of them have been high school basketball officials. In addition to my own personal experiences and research, I picked the brains of a few officials to find out what calls the “refs in the stands” get wrong the most. My goal is to help you save yourself from yourself by going over some of the most commonly misunderstood rules of the game.

As you get ready to head to the state basketball tournaments, brush up on a few of the rules for the game of basketball. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of utter shame and embarrassment. 

Back court Violation (over-and-back)
The back court violation is the most "GET OFF MY LAWN" rule in basketball. As soon as the offense in bounds the ball, the referee starts counting and only gives the offense 9.9 measly seconds to get the ball out of the back court. If the offense is too slow, the referee gives the ball back to the other team. Once the offense gets the ball off of the proverbial back court lawn, they referee doesn't just go sit back down on their porch. They stay right there with an eagle-eye making sure not one hair on an athlete's head touches their lawn again. If it does, they give the ball to the other team. They are pretty serious about it.

It's a rule that has two halves. One half defines what is means to be in the front court. The other dictates what it means to cross back over the line.

I'll break it up and explain each one.

1. Become established in the front court
Both feet AND the ball must be entirely in the front court to establish front court position. Having just part of the ball doesn't count. Having one foot doesn't count. Having both feet but not the ball doesn't count.

2. Commit a back court violation
While it takes the ball and both feet to cross into the front court to be considered "established", if any part of the ball or player touches or crosses the half court line it is considered a violation and the ball is turned over to the other team. The rule is actually pretty simple. Once you are established in the front court which, again, means BOTH feet AND the ball over the line, the mid-court line effectively becomes an out-of-bounds line, which means you can't touch it with your head, shoulders, knees, toes (or anything in between) or the ball.

Movement during a throw-in
Now matter how loud #20's mom yells, it is impossible to travel when throwing the ball in. When in bounding the ball for basically any reason other than after a made basket (time out, jump ball, start of the quarter, etc.) the player throwing the ball in does not have to stand still. They can shuffle their feet, dribble the ball, move side to side or front to back. They can do the Hammer Dance while spinning in circles if they really want to. The one rule they must follow is that they stay within a lateral three foot wide box. They can move backwards as far as they want (or can) but if they don't keep at least one foot on or over the three-foot wide box it is a violation, but not a travel.

What part of the backboard is out of bounds?
The front, sides, top and bottom of the backboard or all legally in bounds. If a ball bounces off the rim and rolls along the top of the backboard, it is legally still in play. If the ball rolls along the top and falls in to the basket it is a made shot. If it falls off the back it is out of bounds. Any part of the back of the backboard is also out of bounds, including the supports and straps. Why you would ever install a basket with straps that stick out so far that any high bounce results in a dead ball is still a mystery to me. 

What about shooting the ball from behind the backboard? Remember that iconic shot by Larry Bird? Keep watching the full clip and you'll see the referee waving the bucket off. Why? Because the ball can't legally pass over the top of the backboard - from either direction.

Over The Back
No matter how loud you yell “OVER THE BACK” it won’t make it appear anywhere in the official rule book. If you are “that” person in the stands that yells ”OVER THE BACK!” stop. Just stop. You are embarrassing yourself, your wife and your unborn grandchildren.  As long as little Johnny wasn’t displaced by his opponent to gain an advantage, there won’t be a whistle. There is no rule against one player being taller or jumping higher than another player. If your little Johnny Allstar didn’t get the rebound don’t blame the taller kid that can jump higher. Remember, it’s all about “displacement”.

I’ll admit, during broadcasts I have said more than once, “Player A just got called for the reach.” The problem is, like “over the back”, the term “reaching” is nowhere to be found in any rule book. There has to be contact to have a foul and just reaching in isn’t contact. If contact does occur, it’s either a holding foul or an illegal use of hands foul. Don’t start yelling “SHE'S REACHING!” when a player makes a play for the ball and the whistle doesn’t blow.

Have you ever yelled "He wasn't set!" to a referee after a charge was called? Sure you have. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “wasn’t set”. A defensive player does not have to remain stationary to take a charge. All a defender has to do is establish “legal guarding position” by having two feet on the floor facing their opponent. Once this happens, the only thing they can’t do is advance into an airborne shooter. Everything else is legal and contact responsibility is on the offense, which means they can’t run through someone once legal guarding position is established. A defender can turn away, move sideways/backwards (obliquely), dodge, duck dip, dive or dodge to absorb contact and still draw a charge on the offense. Even if one or both feet is off the floor when contact occurs.

Three Seconds In The Key
“THAT’S THREE IN THE KEEEEEEY!” Admit it, you just heard a voice in your head of someone you know saying it exactly like that. Theoretically, a player can spend 12+ seconds camped out in the key without being in violation of any rules. Johnny can post up for three seconds, receive a pass and pivot towards the basketball for another three seconds. Then he can put the ball on the floor and dribble towards the hoop for a layup for another three seconds. If the shot is missed, Johnny can block out to get a rebound for another three seconds. As an added bonus (just to throw you off) the three-second count is negated until possession is obtained by the offensive team if it is knocked away or a shot is missed.

The ball’s loose. Johnny dives for it and slides 10 feet on his back. One half of the gym explodes with moms and dads looking they are busting out dance moves from the 70’s screaming, “TRAVELING!!” The other half looks like they just got away with it and sit there smiling saying, “Thanks for the make up call!” Both sides are wrong. Johnny can slide from one end of the court to the other while holding the ball until his momentum stops and it isn’t a travel. Once Johnny stops sliding, however, he can’t try to get up or roll over. He can pass, shoot or call a timeout but if he tries to get up, roll from side to side or do the funky chicken, the whistle will blow and a travel will be called.

There is no such thing as, “You get a step and a half”. Once a player has established a pivot foot it can be lifted from the floor legally to continue or finish a move but can never be returned to the floor even if in the exact same spot it came from without the player first passing or shooting. Just because the player has long legs and takes big steps, doesn’t mean that great step-through was a travel.

Goal tending
At 5-foot-8, this is one thing I never really had to try and avoid getting called on me. Goal tending is defined as, “a violation in which a defensive player interferes with a shot when it is on its downward arc or is on or over the rim.” Slapping the backboard during a valid attempt to block a shot isn’t goal tending. If a player slaps the backboard really hard to bring attention to himself or to obviously disrupt the shooter a technical can be assessed. 

A player can also legally pin the ball against the backboard as long as the shot is still on its way up and not in “the cylinder”.

The hand really is part of the ball
Even if you can hear the slap all the way up in the stands, if the offensive player’s hand is in contact with the ball when the defense makes a legitimate play on the ball, it isn’t a foul. The offensive player can be holding the ball, passing, dribbling - even shooting. Hitting a player’s hand if it is in contact with the ball isn’t a foul, even if the offensive player comes away with a hand print on the back of his hand.

Air Ball
A player can shoot an air ball and retrieve it without it being a traveling violation as long as the official deems it was a legitimate shot attempt. The player can even start a new dribble at that point.

Since I know a few officials will be reading this, I do have one tiny little favor to respectfully ask. If you have watched/listened to very many games I have called over the years you will know that a big pet peeve of mine is a quick jump ball call. For instance, Player One has the ball and Player Two reaches in to steal the ball. Immediately the whistle blows and a jump ball is called. A “held ball” occurs when “one or more players of each opposing team have one or both hands FIRMLY on the ball so that neither team can gain control without undue roughness.” Just sayin’…..

In the end, refs don’t make calls that decide who wins or who loses. The team that puts the ball in the hoop more often than the other team tends to win. The players on the court (and sometimes the coaches on the sidelines) commit the fouls and violate the rules. The officials are there to call the fouls and rules violations and then apply the required penalties. These are trained professionals doing what they love doing. The refs are usually the only unbiased people in the gym. Are fouls sometimes missed? Sure they are. Was the ball tipped out by the “other “ team, but it was called out on “your” team? Sure it was. And it will happen again, but next time maybe it will be the other way around. A game refereed by humans will never be 100 percent perfect. However, imagine a world where games can’t even be played because no one is willing to step up and ref them.

The bottom line is this: Don’t be the jerk in the stands embarrassing yourself, your family, your school and your entire town this weekend at the state tournament. Instead of worrying about the three refs doing their jobs the best way they know how, focus your attention on the five athletes on the floor that you have watched play together since they were eight years old. Enjoy the state tournaments and soak in the memories. If you do it right, you will be hoarse by the time it is over because you were yelling and screaming for your team and not at the officials.

Do you know of other basketball rules that fans tend to get wrong? Post them in the comments below!

For additional reading on high school basketball rules, click here.



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