Three Seconds. It's about time.

The 3-second violation is on the basketball rules hot list for the 2009/10 season. Both the NFHS and NCAA rules committes have focused on 3-seconds (see NFHS and NCAA emphasis). This offensive violation is not to be confused with defensive 3-seconds included only in the NBA rules.

The basic NFHS, NCAA, FIFA, NBA and WNBA rules are the same. A player of a team with control in the front court shall not touch or be in the restricted area for more than 3 consecutive seconds. The restricted area is the free throw lane including boundary lines.*

*The WNBA restricted area includes an extension of the free throw lane from the endline to four feet off the court.

An allowance is made to continue a count but suspend a violation ruling when, before 3 seconds, an offensive player starts to attempt to score (including dribbling to the basket). If the move is directly completed, no violation can occur. However, if the move is aborted (e.g. by a pass or fake), no exception applies.

NCAA FIBA and NBA rules also make allowance for a player who, before 3 seconds, attempts to leave the restricted (NCAA and FIBA) or passes and immediately moves out of the lane (NBA).


The impetus for 3 second violation emphasis is inconsistent enforcement. As noted by the NCAA rules committee, 3-second “uncalled infractions provide a distinct advantage for the offensive team.” The NFHS committee “maintains that correct enforcement goes a long way to decreasing rough post play.”

Officials may shy away from calling 3-second violations. A common argument is that such calls disturb the flow of the game -- they are game interrupters -- with little benefit. Sadly, this has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. When 3-seconds is called inconsistently (or not all),

game flow is interrupted by an imbalance of physical play over finesse in the post. Player,coach and partner uncertainty regarding enforcement also hurt game quality.

Consistent enforcement may lead to a temporary increase in called 3-second violations before players and coaches adapt and cause fewer violations. Take note of the recent emphasis on penalizing carrying violations and the success in reducing those violations..


  • Prevent if we can, enforce if we must.
  • A 3 second violation can occur only when there is team control in the front court
  • A 3 second violation can occur when there is no player control (e.g. during an interrupted dribble or passing among teammates)
  • The 3-second count is silent and not visible
  • One or two alerts (e.g. stating “lane“) may effectively prevent 3-second violations. Additional alerts or coaching (e.g. “get out of the lane”) are inadvisable.
  • A violation occurs only after 3 seconds.
  • When a 3 second count is reached
    • Find the ball. If it has left a player's hand on a try -- no team control, no 3 seconds. If there is any doubt that the player is still touching the ball during a try, do not call a violation.
    • Check for movement in the restricted area. If a player starts to move to try for goal -- suspend. Under FIBA, NCAA, NBA and WNBA (but not NFHS) rules, also suspend the count if a player starts to move to exit the restricted area.
  • Be Patient. Be sure. A player must clearly, without a doubt touch the restricted area to violate. 3 seconds is not more than 3 seconds.
NCAA 3-Seconds Issue of Concern
The Rules Committee is concerned with uncalled three-second violations. The basis for this concern is that these uncalled infractions provide a distinct advantage for the offensive team

As a reminder, a player is not permitted to have any part of his body in the three-second lane for more than three consecutive seconds while the ball is in control of his team in his front court. (Exception 9-9.1.a).

A three second count shall be suspended when a player who has been in the lane for fewer than three seconds has made a conscientious effort to leave the lane, usually by taking the shortest distance out of the area. When the player decides not to leave the area and has been in the lane for more than three seconds, he has committed a violation.

When a player, who has been in the lane for fewer than three seconds, immediately dribbles or makes a move to try for a goal, the three second count shall be suspended to allow for the completion of the try. However, when the player passes the ball or aborts his try for goal, the suspended count shall continue. When that player is in the lane for more than three seconds, a violation has been committed.
When a team is in control of the ball in its frontcourt, a player of that team may not remain in the lane for three seconds. The lane is bounded by the end line and the farther edge of the free-throw line -- and includes the lane lines.
  1. Team control. In order to understand the administration of the rule, it is necessary to know when team control exists. Team control exists: during player control, holding and dribbling inbounds; during a pass between teammates; during an interrupted dribble. Team control continues until: the ball is in flight during a ry for goal; an opponent secures control; the ball becomes dead. Team control does not exist during the tapping of a rebound or when the ball is loose following a try. There is no team control during a throw-in. The three-second restriction is not in effect when there is no team control, and is terminated the instant team control ends.
  2. Exception. Allowance is made and the count is momentarily stopped when a restricted player has the ball and dribbles or makes a move to try for goal. However, the previous count is resumed if the player does not continue and try for goal. Some may feel that exception complicates the rule, but it is necessary in order to balance the offense and defense. The most obvious misinterpretation of this rule is when the restricted player has a two-second count when he or she

  • begins the move to try for goal, but is stopped or the ball is batted loose. The player involved, while in the lane, attempts to regain possession and instead of continuing the count, the official erroneously stops it entirely. If the player starts a move to the basket and the ball is jarred loose, the previous count is resumed and results in a violation if it reaches three seconds. The purpose of the rule is circumvented if a violation is not called when this occurs.
  1. Screener. Another situation that is occurring more frequently, and which is often not properly called, is when an offensive player sets a screen in the lane and remains there for more than three seconds. The responsible official must make sure that offensive players are not occupying restricted positions for more than the permitted time. The offensive player gains an unwarranted advantage if he or she can “camp out” in the lane, either as a potential shooter or as a screener.
  2. Rough post play. When the three-second rule is properly enforced, rough post play is likely reduced. Post defenders cannot be expected to defend and deny an opponent in the lane indefinitely. When an offensive post player “camps out“ in the lane, defenders tend to get frustrated and become more physical. Calling this infraction when it occurs goes a long way to decreasing rough post play -- an area that has been emphasized for many years.