Anthony's International Basketball Officiating Site

Copyright © 1996–2009 Anthony Reimer

FIBA/U.S. Rule Differences

Revised 2013-07-01 • No further updates expected
(includes information referred to on my Rule Changes page)

Basketball is played all around the world using the same set of rules... except in North America, of course!

Below is a list of major rule differences between FIBA (International) Rules and many of those used in North America. The list is meant to give more detailed information than some other comparisons (more suitable for usage by referees), but is by no means exhaustive.

Each point listed will address the following sets of rules:

FIBA International Rules
NBA National Basketball Association, the world's premier professional league, with teams in the United States and Canada.
WNBA A professional women's summer league founded by the NBA in 1997.
NCAA Men US National Collegiate Athletic Association. There are some rule variations between Men and Women's rules.
NCAA Women

The NBDL (the NBA's fall development league) uses NBA rules for purposes of this discussion.

I do not have current information on US High School rules (National Federation rules), so I have chosen to omit them. They are similar in philosophy to NCAA Men's rules, but they have some peculiar quirks. The NCAA also puts a comparison in the back of their rule book each year, which is available online. Check some of the sources listed in my Hoop Links for more current information on NF Rules.

A reminder that this page is ©2000–2013 Anthony Reimer. If you want to reproduce this handout (for a clinic, for instance), you need to seek permission from me. In many cases, there will be no royalty charged so long as proper recognition is given. Having said this, I have been out of active officiating for quite some time, so if you want to use this comparison as a basis for a new, publicly-available rules comparison and keep it updated, please contact me and I will consider releasing this under the same terms as my Pre-game Card. I do not regularly review this document, so if you find errors, please contact me.


Major Differences

Three Point Line (measured from the centre of the basket)

FIBA 6.75 m (22'1.75"), minimum 90 cm (2'11.5') from sideline
(thus, shortest distance is 6.6 m)
NBA an arc of 23'9" (7.24 m), which intersects with lines parallel to the sideline which are 22' (6.7 m) away at their closest point to the basket
WNBA 20' 6.25" (6.25 m)
NCAA Men 20'9" (6.325 m)
NCAA Women

Restricted Area (a.k.a. "The Key" or "The Lane")

FIBA 4.88 m (16') wide rectangle
NBA 16' (4.88 m) wide rectangle
WNBA
NCAA Men 12' (3.6 m) wide rectangle
NCAA Women

Playing Time

FIBA 4 - 10 minute quarters; OT periods are 5 min each
NBA 4 - 12 minute quarters; OT periods are 5 min each
WNBA 4 - 10 minute quarters; OT periods are 5 min each
NCAA Men 2 - 20 minute halves; OT periods are 5 min each
NCAA Women

Game Clock Operation — Last Minutes of Play/Field Goal

The clock stops after a successful field goal...

FIBA In the last two minutes of the second half and any OT period
NBA In last minute of quarters 1, 2, 3, last 2 minutes of quarter 4 and any OT
WNBA In last minute of every period
NCAA Men In the last minute of the second half and any OT period
NCAA Women

Shot Clock — Time Allowed to Shoot

FIBA 24 seconds
NBA
WNBA
NCAA Men 35 seconds
NCAA Women 30 seconds

Shot Clock — Operation

All rules agree that a team must attempt (release) a shot before the clock expires and that for it to be a legal attempt, the ball must strike the ring. After a legal attempt, the clock is reset to its maximum value and does not start again until a team gains control (or is awarded possession for a throw-in). Likewise, a change of team control causes the shot clock to be reset. Shot clocks are stopped when play stops. Clocks are never reset when a defensive player causes the ball to go out of bounds (the word "violation" used below does not refer to out-of-bounds violations). The rules diverge on which situations cause a reset, how much that reset will be, and when the clock will restart.

FIBA Basically the same as NBA but no 5-second reset (read Art. 29.2 for the greatest clarity).
NBA
  • When play resumes with less than full amount on shot clock, shot clock resumes with first touch in bounds
  • The shot clock is reset to 24, 14, or 5 (unless the time remaining on the clock is greater) under the following circumstances:
    • Reset to 24 on all flagrant and punching fouls, as well as personal fouls and violations resulting in a backcourt throw-in.
    • Reset to 14 on personal fouls and defensive 3-second or kicked/punched ball or jump ball situation (no change of possession) violations resulting in a front court throw-in; a defensive technincal foul or delay of game warning; an infection control situation
    • Reset to 5 when the same team retains possession on a jump ball situation resulting from a defensive tie-up.
  • The shot clock is not reset when the offensive team commits a technical foul or is charged with a delay of game warning
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • When play resumes with less than full amount on shot clock, shot clock resumes with first touch in bounds
  • The shot clock is reset after most fouls (personal or technical) — exceptions follow.
  • The shot clock is not reset on a double foul or alternating possession situation when the same team retains possession.
  • The shot clock is not reset when the offensive team commits a technical foul.
  • For kicked ball violations, if the violation occurs with 14 or fewer seconds remaining on the shot clock, it shall be reset to 15 seconds. Otherwise, there shall be no reset (the time remaining shall be used).
NCAA Women

Time Outs — Number and Duration

FIBA
  • 2 time outs in first half, 3 in second half, one per overtime period
  • All time-outs must last 60 seconds
  • Time-outs do not accumulate
NBA
  • 6 "regular" time outs per regulation time (with some restrictions — some mandatory timeouts for TV are built into the 6), 2 regular timeouts per overtime period
  • Regular time outs are 60 seconds in duration, except the first two timeouts in each period and the extra mandatory timeout in Quarters 2 and 4, which are 100 seconds
  • Time outs do not accumulate into overtime
  • One 20 second timeout per half and each overtime period.
  • Maxiumum 3 regular timeouts in the fourth period.
  • If a team has 2 or 3 regular timeouts remaining when the fourth period or overtime period reaches the 2:00 mark, those will change to one regular timeout and one 20-second timeout. (Thus, a team may never have more than 1 regular and two 20-second timeouts in the last two minutes of a game.)
WNBA
  • 2 "regular" timeouts per half (one of those timeouts will generally be charged as a mandatory timeout), 1 per overtime period
  • The first regular timeout in the first and third period and the first two regular timeouts in the second and fourth period are 120 seconds in length. All other regular timeouts are 60 seconds in length.
  • Unused regular time outs do not accumulate from half to half, nor into overtime
  • One 20 sec timeout in each half and OT period; can carry one over from 1st to 2nd Half or 2nd Half to OT (never more than two allowed in OT period).
NCAA Men
Electronic Media timeout format:
  • This format can be used whether or not electronic media is present.
  • 4 30-second time outs and 1 60-second time out per game
  • A maximum of 3 30-second time outs and one 60-second time out may be carried into the second half
  • One additional 30-second time out is added per overtime period (any timeouts remaining from the second half may be carried over into overtime)
  • First 30-second time out of the second half is extended to the length of a media timeout.
  • If coach requests 2 consecutive 30-second timeouts, players may sit on the bench, so long as the request is made when the first timeout is granted. (Normally, players must remain standing and on the floor during a 30-second timeout.)
  • Time outs that are not Electronic Media timeouts may be shortened.
Non-E.M. timeout format:
  • 4 "full" time outs per game (75 seconds, warning horn after 60 seconds has expired), add one per overtime
  • 2 - 30 sec timeouts per game (can be used any time)
  • All time outs are cumulative
NCAA Women

Time Outs — How To Call, When Allowed, Privileges

FIBA
  • Must be called by the coach through the scorer's table
  • Time out granted on next stoppage or, if asked for in time, after the next field goal scored against (a mercy rule of sorts).
  • No time-outs granted once a set of free throws has started — Exceptions: If the last free throw is successful or there will be a throw-in after the final throw, either may be granted a timeout
  • Throw-in spot is advanced (without option) to the front court in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter (or OT) when a timeout is called by the team with the ball entitled to a throw-in in the back court (including after a successful field goal by the opponents). The spot is opposite the scorer's table at a hash mark in line with the top of the 3-point arc (8.325 m / 27' 3.75" from the baseline).
NBA
  • Called from the floor by players anytime a player on their team is in control of the ball, or whenever the ball is dead (once you are scored upon, you are deemed to be in control, so no time-outs after you score a basket as is possible in the NCAA)
  • The Head Coach may also request a time-out from an official.
  • A player may not call timeout if both of his/her feet are in the air and any part of his/her body has broken the vertical plane of the sideline, baseline, or midcourt line
  • Ball may be advanced to front court (the 28' line [8.53 m], in specific) in some situations after calling a full or 20 second time out late in the game
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • Called from the floor by players or the coach anytime a player on their team is in control of the ball (including ball at their disposal) or whenever the ball is dead, including after a field goal or free throw scored by either team.
  • A time out shall not be recognized if an airborne player's momentum carries them out of bounds or into the back court.
NCAA Women

Jump Ball, Held Ball, Alternating Possession

FIBA
  • On all held ball/jump ball situations during the game (including the beginning of most periods), teams alternate receiving the ball ("alternating possession"), with the team not gaining possession of the initial (tossed) jump ball being the first recipient.
  • First half begins with a jump ball; alternating possession at the beginning of all other periods.
  • The shot clock shall not be reset if the offensive team retains possession of the ball through the alternating process.
NBA
  • On all held ball/jump ball situations during the game, play resumes with a (tossed) jump ball
  • If the offence retains possession after a jump ball, the clock is reset to 5 seconds or remains the same if there were more than 14 seconds on the clock. If the defense commits a violation during the jump ball, the clock is reset to 14. If the defense gains possession, the clock is reset to 24 seconds.
  • First period and any overtime begin with a jump ball; periods 2, 3, and 4 start with possession based on team winning opening tip (2 and 3 to loser of tip, 4 to winner). Throw-in is treated like a throw-in after a successful basket (player may run baseline and/or pass to teammates out of bounds).
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • On all held ball/jump ball situations during the game (including the start of the second half), teams alternate receiving the ball ("alternating possession"), with the team not gaining possession of the last (tossed) jump ball being the first recipient
  • The game and any overtime period start with a jump ball; alternating possession at the beginning of the second half
  • If the offensive team retains the ball due to the alternating process, the shot clock shall not be reset.
NCAA Women

Substitutions

FIBA
  • A "substitution opportunity" begins when the clock is stopped and the ball is dead (i.e. after a whistle or after a field goal in the last two minutes). It ends when an official steps into the circle to toss a jump ball or an official steps into the lane to administer free throw(s) or the ball is at the disposal of a player for a throw-in. One major effect of this is to disallow subs between free throws.
  • If the last free throw is successful (or is followed by possession), either team may substitute.
  • After a basket in the last two minutes, the team scored upon may initiate a substitution (the player(s) must be there before the basket is scored). If only the team that scores wants the substitution, it shall not be allowed.
  • Referee's stoppages are explicitly included as substitution opportunities for either or both teams.
NBA
  • Subs permitted by either team when the clock is stopped and the ball is dead. Exception: Subs not permitted after a successful final free throw or field goal (in the final minute(s) of a period). In many cases, the player must be in the 8' box (near the centre of the scorer's table) at the time of the stoppage in order to come into the game.
  • Subs are not allowed during a referee's stoppage (e.g., delay of game warning, stopping play due to an errant ball).
  • During free throw activity, subs are permitted after the first free throw in a multiple throw penalty, but not thereafter (i.e. not between the second and third throws, nor after a successful final throw). "Sub for the shooter" is not generally permitted.
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • Subs by either team permitted when the clock is stopped and the ball is dead, including after a successful free throw. Exception: Substitutions shall not be permitted in the last 59.9 seconds of the second half or any extra period when the clock is stopped (a) due to a successful field goal, (b) to correct a timer's mistake, or (c) due to an inadvertent whistle.
  • No restrictions on which team must initiate subs, even after a successful final free throw.
  • In situations where two or three free throws are awarded, substitutions are held until just prior to the final throw.
NCAA Women

Player Fouls

FIBA
  • Foul out on 5 (personal + technical)
  • All fouls involving contact with an opponent, even when play is stopped, are personal fouls
NBA
  • Foul out on 6 personal or 2 technical fouls
  • Fouls committed while the ball is dead are technical fouls.
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • Foul out on 5 (personal fouls + non-administrative technical fouls)
  • Fouls committed while the ball is dead are technical fouls.
NCAA Women

Team Fouls (Penalty or "Bonus" Free Throws)

Note: In all rules, if a shooting foul occurs, or any other foul that would lead to free throws regardless of the foul count, the normal penalty shall supersede any penalty related to foul count.

FIBA
  • Penalty (2 shots) is awarded on any team foul after the 4th of each quarter (i.e. on the 5th) unless the foul is an offensive foul; overtime is an extension of the 4th quarter.
  • Team fouls include all personal fouls and player (not coach) technical fouls.
NBA
  • Penalty (a total of 2 shots) is awarded on the 5th team foul in each quarter (on the 4th in OT), or on the second in the last two minutes, whichever comes first.
  • Team fouls include personal fouls by defensive players and any loose ball fouls (i.e. offensive fouls and technical fouls are not team fouls).
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • "Bonus" (1 free throw, plus another free throw if the first is successful) is awarded on the 7th, 8th and 9th foul of each half; the penalty is increased to two shots (often called "double bonus") on the 10th and subsequent fouls; overtime is an extension of the second half.
  • Team fouls include all personal fouls, all contact and unsporting technical fouls, and all technical fouls to anyone on the bench.
  • Note: No free throws awarded on an offensive foul (this is now in line with all other rules listed here; prior to the 2002-03 season, this rule only applied to the player in control of the ball).
NCAA Women

Technical Foul — Penalty

FIBA 2 free throws and possession of the ball at centre; no possession at centre if the foul occurs before the first half (game would still start with a jump ball).
NBA 1 free throw per technical foul; play resumes at the point of interruption; foul is charged to individual in question (and automatic fine assessed)
WNBA
NCAA Men 2 free throws, play resumes at point of interruption.
NCAA Women 2 free throws, play resumes at point of interruption. Technical fouls for excess time outs shall be penalised by two free throws, plus loss of possession of the ball.

Goaltending/Basket Interference

All rules disallow players from touching the ball on its downward flight toward the basket if it still has a chance to go in. Reaching through the basket to play the ball is also a violation. The major differences centre around what happens when a shot hits the rim and may or may not go in.

FIBA
  • Once the ball strikes the rim, any player can play the ball (i.e. swat it away or tap it in).
  • Once the ball is in the basket, the offence can no longer violate.

    Note: The alley-oop play, once illegal in FIBA, was legalised in 1994.

NBA
  • An imaginary cylinder exists that has the basket as its base. Touching the ball while any part of it is in this cylinder (and still has a chance to go in) is a violation.
WNBA
NCAA Men
NCAA Women

Zone Defence

FIBA Legal
NBA Legal, however a defensive player may not stay in the lane (a.k.a. key, restricted area) for longer than three seconds if he is not actively guarding an opponent (penalty: technical foul, shot clock reset to 14 if necessary)
WNBA Legal
NCAA Men
NCAA Women

Free Throw Activity

Note: In all rules, the shooter of the free throw must wait for the ball to strike the rim before they can touch or cross the line.

FIBA
  • Maximum 5 players on the lane (3 opponents of shooter, 2 teammates)
  • All spots designated (i.e. if left vacant, may not be filled by opponent)
  • Players on lane leave on release of throw, others must stand behind free throw line extended & 3 point line and wait for ball to strike rim
  • A shooter violation overrides all other violations. Similarly, if the free throw is good and the shooter did not violate, all other violations are ignored and the throw counts (one of my favourite FIBA rules).
  • Five seconds to attempt the free throw (not strictly enforced)
NBA
  • Bottom four spaces must be occupied - a delay of game warning can be issued if they are not
  • Maximum 5 players on the lane (3 opponents of shooter, 2 teammates)
  • Players occupying lane spaces are prohibited from extending any part of their bodies into the space in front of an opponent until the free throw is released
  • Players on lane leave on release of throw, others must stand behind free throw line extended & 3 point line but may also leave on release of throw
  • A violation by any member of the shooting team can cancel an otherwise valid free throw
  • Ten seconds to attempt the free throw
WNBA
NCAA Men
  • Maximum 6 players on the lane (4 opponents of shooter, 2 teammates)
  • Bottom two spots must be occupied by opponents of the shooter; right to spots alternate along the lane; can move to fill a vacant space.
  • Spots closest to the basket may not be filled.
  • Players on lane leave on release of throw, others must stand behind free throw line extended & 3 point line and wait for ball to strike rim
  • A violation by any member of the shooting team can cancel an otherwise valid free throw
  • Ten seconds to attempt the free throw
NCAA Women

Minor Differences

Player Numbers
FIBA: Only the numbers 4-15 may be used in international competition (in exhibition or domestic play, any one- or two-digit number is generally acceptable)
NCAA: 00, 0, 1-5, 10-15, 20-25, 30-35, 40-45, 50-55; not both 0 and 00 on the same team;
NBA, WNBA: any one or two digit number; not both 0 and 00 on the same team.
Ball Over Backboard
FIBA: The ball is still in play if it passes over the backboard in either direction, providing that it does not hit a basket support
NBA, WNBA, NCAA: Ball is out of bounds if it passes over the backboard in either direction (NBA/WBNA wording is "passes behind the backboard")
Travelling
NBA/WNBA rule is a little more liberal than the current NCAA and FIBA rules when a player is coming to a stop. The NBA/WNBA rule is identical to the pre-1994 FIBA rule; in essence, once you have come to a legal stop, you always have a foot to pivot with. NCAA and current FIBA rules can leave a player without a pivot foot. As well, if you land with a staggered stop (i.e. one foot, then the other, with one foot clearly in front of the other), the back foot is the pivot foot in NBA/WNBA. In NCAA/FIBA, the first foot to touch is the pivot.
Injured Player
FIBA: Referee stops play at an appropriate time to deal with injury (slightly different times in FIBA and NCAA). If an injured player is entitled to free throws and must leave the game, the substitute shall attempt the throws.
NCAA: Referee stops play at an appropriate time to deal with injury (slightly different times in FIBA and NCAA). In Men's play, if an injured player is entitled to free throws and must leave the game, the opposing coach selects the player (from the four remaining on the floor) to take the throws unless it is due to an intentional or flagrant foul. (Women's play: Same as FIBA.)
NBA, WNBA: Team must call 20 second or full timeout to stop for injured player. If an injured player is entitled to free throws and must leave the game, the opposing coach selects a player from the shooting team's bench to take the throws unless it is due to a flagrant foul (penalty 1 or 2).
Closely Guarded Player / 5 Second Violation
FIBA: Player holding the ball for 5 seconds, actively guarded within one metre, anywhere on the court
NCAA: front court only, holding or dribbling the ball (not a combination of both) for 5 seconds, within 6'/2 m
CIS Men 2006: Player holding the ball for 5 seconds, actively guarded within one metre, front court only.
NBA: No closely guarded rule; Illegal to dribble with your back to the basket for 5 consecutive seconds while you are between the baseline and the free throw line extended.
WNBA: No rule
Backcourt Violation("Over and Back") / Front Court & Back Court Status
If you are standing with the ball and have one or both feet touching the back court, you have back court status. If you are dribbling from backcourt to front court, all three points (dribbler's feet and the ball) must be in the front court, otherwise the ball retains back court status. This is now the case for all rules (FIBA change in 2008).
FIBA: Player who establishes a new team control while airborne and then lands in the backcourt has not commited a violation. Also, team control exists on a throw-in, so if the ball is thrown in from the front court to a player with back court status, it would be a backcourt violation.
NCAA: An airborne player who is the first to secure control of the ball after a jump ball or throw-in may land with one or both feet in the back court without violating. On a throw-in, a player may legally throw the ball directly to a teammate in the backcourt.
NBA, WNBA: Same as FIBA. Additional exceptions made for frontcourt and midcourt throw-ins in the last two minutes (WNBA: 1 minute) of the 4th period and throughout overtime made directly to the backcourt, an airborne player securing the ball in jump ball situations, and in loose ball situations.
8 (or 10) Second Violation
Once a team gains control of the ball in the backcourt, it has either 8 or 10 seconds (as specified below) to proceed to the frontcourt (i.e. the ball gains frontcourt status).
FIBA: 8 seconds. Count is not reset if possession is retained because of an out of bounds violation, an alternating possession throw-in, fouls of equal penalties, or offensive injury.
NBA, WNBA: 8 seconds. Count is reset if the defence kicks or punches the ball, is assessed a technical foul, or is issued a delay of game warning; or if play is stopped due to a player bleeding. For purposes of this rule, the ball gains front court status on a pass when it crosses the plane of the centre line.
NCAA: 10 seconds (New for Women in 2013–15). Count ends (without penalty) if the ball becomes dead (e.g., if the defensive team deflects the ball out of bounds).
Rebounding Own Shot
NBA, WNBA: Violation to be the first to touch ones own shot if it doesn't hit the rim or backboard (i.e. an "air ball").
All others: Legal (referee must judge that it was a try for goal, as poorly executed as it was ;-)
Ball Size
As of September 2004, all Women's rules (FIBA, WNBA, NCAA) use the so-called Size 6 ball (previously, FIBA had used the same ball size for men and women). All Men's rules continue to use the larger ball.
Instant Replay
NBA, WNBA: Triggered automatically (no discretion); used to determine good field goals at the end of period as well as time remaining in period when the foul occurs with 0:00 on the clock; used to determine severity of foul in Flagrant 2 (ejection) instance and any other factors that may have caused same; used to assist with identifying and penalizing players in an altercation; used for game clock malfunction at the end of a period; used to determine status of 2- or 3-point attempt (whether made or shooter fouled) when officials are in doubt. Anything at the end of the game that will not affect the outcome is not reviewed.
NCAA: When available, shall be used to determine good field goals at the end of period as well as time remaining in period when the foul occurs with 0:00 on the clock (same as NBA); shall be used to determine who left the bench during a fight (and if a fight occurred); may be used (discretion of officials) in specific ways related to Free Throws (e.g., shooter, number of throws), Scoring (2 or 3 point goal, scorer errors), Timing (clock malfunction, game clock or shot clock operational errors — specific limits apply), or to determine if a Flagrant 1 or 2 foul has occurred (can also reduce the penalty to intentional foul after review). (More kinds of reviews allowed as of 2013–15, including determining who commited the flagrant foul.)
FIBA: No rule.
Deliberate/Hard Foul (not leading to ejection)
FIBA: Called Unsportsmanlike Foul. To be called if player is making no effort to play the ball or if it is a "hard foul." If there is no opponent between the offensive player and the basket and the player is fouled from behind or on the side, it is unsportmanlike.
NBA, WNBA: Called Flagrant Foul — Penalty 1. To be called if contact is "unnecessary." A clear-path-to-the-basket foul is not considered a Flagrant (1) foul, but the penalty (2 free throws + possession) is the same.
NCAA: Called Flagrant 1 Personal Foul. Similar interpretation to FIBA (except no specific clear-path foul, just fouling from behind). Contacting a thrower-in is an Intentional Foul.
Charging Fouls under the Basket — the No-charge Semicircle
FIBA: 1.25 m (4'1.2") semicircle
NCAA: 3' (90 cm) semicircle; Women (new in 2013–15) also have a (larger) zone near the basket ("lower defensive box") where a player cannot draw a charge (but not under all circumstances).
NBA, WNBA: 4' (1.22 m) no-charge semicircle.
Throw-in — Administration
CIS Women 2006: If a violation occurs resulting in a throw-in from a team's back court, the official shall not handle the ball on such throw-in. The throw-in shall take place from within 1 m of the designated spot (if it is not, the official blows the play down and handles the throw-in from the designated spot). This is similar to the pre-1990 FIBA Rule.
Others: No rule — all such throw-ins are handled by an official.

Itsy Bitsy Niggly Ones

Yes, there are more! But I think that's quite enough for most of you.