Basketball Rules
Game Time by the Rules

Some basketball rules deal with time - when is the ball live, and when is it dead? What actions stop the clock from running, and when does the clock keep going? How do you make changes or perform various activities while the clock is running? Every league will have their own specific take on these rules, but the variations will be minor - there are many more similarities than differences in rules used by the NBA and your local high school league.

So here are the most basic basketball rules concerning game time - i.e., things that happen in the game that depend on or cause a stopped clock. I've tried to be as general as possible, to give an idea of what you should know, and I think this gives a good, relatively thorough overview of these rules and what you need to know to coach successfully.

But be sure to also read up on the rule book that applies to your particular league to double-check specifics.

Basketball Rules
Playing time

Basketball Rules - Ref

How long are the quarters, overtime periods, half time, time outs, etc.?

- exact times depend on the league's adopted rules, but I think many leagues have moved toward the international standards as outlined by FIBA - 40 minute games with a running clock (i.e., the clock does not stop unless the referee blows the whistle.) You'll find the FIBA rulebook here.

Some leagues will play two 20-minute halves; others will play four 10-minute quarters. And some leagues likely still use the old-time version of four 8-minute quarters with a stopped clock.

If additional time is needed - i.e., overtime periods - each additional period is usually 5 minutes long.

Basketball Rules
Starting and Stopping the Clock

basketball rules - clock

The clock starts when the ball is touched by one of the players on the court. This could mean when the ball has been tossed in a jump ball and one of the jumpers has tipped it, or when the ball has been passed into play after a dead ball or at the beginning of a quarter (note: the clock begins when the ball is touched by a player on the court, not when it is handed to the inbounder)

The clock stops when time runs out in the quarter, or when the referee blows his whistle (to call a foul, or in some leagues, the clock will also stop when the ball goes out of bounds.)

Also note that, although the game clock may not be started if the ball is being inbounded (e.g., at the beginning of a quarter, or after a foul is called), the player inbounding the ball must do so within a certain length of time (generally five seconds after being handed the ball by the referee) or else lose possession.

Basketball Rules

basketball rules - foul

If a player is fouled in the act of shooting and makes the shot, the shot counts as long as the shooter completes the shot using a continuous motion begun before the foul.

  • For example, if a player drives in for a layup, picks the ball up and takes his first step, is fouled, but continues in to take his second step and complete the layup - this basket counts as good.

  • If, however, the player is fouled before he picks the ball up, or if he is fouled, stops and then shoots, the basket will not count as it is not considered a continuous motion - i.e., the violation occurred before the act of shooting began, and the ball is considered to have been called "dead" when the referee blew the whistle.

Basketball Rules
Held Ball

A held ball is called when players from opposing teams both have a firm grip on the ball and are trying to wrestle the ball away from each other. If neither player can free the ball within a few seconds, the referee will call a "held ball" so as to stop the two players from becoming unnecessarily rough.

Some leagues may still use a jump ball after every held ball, but as this slows down the game considerably, most leagues will have switched to the held ball rule as is common in international rules.

The game begins with a tip-off jump ball - if Team A gains possession of the ball at the jump, Team B then receives the next possession

  • i.e., at the next held ball, instead of a jump ball, Team B is given the ball to throw in. After that, possession will alternate from one team to the next, switching after each held ball / change of possession.

The team that is entitled to the next possession at the end of each quarter will inbound the ball at the beginning of the next quarter.

The scorers' table should have a possession arrow clearly displayed, pointing to the basket that is to receive the next possession.

Basketball Rules
Inbounding the Ball

Players inbounding the ball cannot move from the spot the referee puts them in.

  • The only exception to this is after a basket - after a team makes a basket, any member of the opposing team can inbound the ball along the baseline, and is allowed to run along the baseline if he chooses. He may also pass to another player standing out of bounds. However, remember that the team only has limited time in which to inbound the ball (usually 5 seconds) and that count begins the moment the team has control of the ball.

Basketball Rules

Basketball rules - timeouts
  • Commonly, a time out lasts for one minute, but some leagues will have 30 second or 20 second time outs - check with your league rules.

  • Teams have a certain number of time outs allowed in each game - commonly, 2 time outs allowed in the first half and three in the second half, with 1 additional time out in each overtime period.
  • Unused timeouts from the first half cannot be transferred to the second half.

  • Generally, time outs will only be granted during dead balls, must be requested at the scorer's table and can only be requested by the coach or assistant coach - but these rules will differ depending on your league's adopted set of rules, so again, check with your league.

Basketball Rules

  • Teams can substitute players only during dead ball situations. The player must inform the scorer's table that he wishes to enter the game, and then he waits at the table until a game stoppage is called and the referee indicates he can enter - don't enter before the referee says so.

And a few more things...

  • The ball is considered "dead" - i.e., not in play and therefore cannot be scored with - when the shot clock sounds (usually a 24 second shot clock) while a team is in control of the ball

  • The basket counts if the ball is in flight for a field goal and the referee blows his whistle, or the shot clock sounds, or the game clock sounds. If any of these happen before the ball leaves the shooter's hand, the basket does not count.

  • Teams change baskets at the half.

This list of basketball rules is not in any way exhaustive, and nor is it very detailed. As I've stated, every league will have their own twist to the rules - the length of each quarter, for example, or who is allowed to call timeouts. So before you start explaining to a referee that he doesn't know what he's doing, be sure you read up on whatever rulebook your league uses.

And, on that note, remember that your referees are human and will make mistakes, and as well realize that sometimes the coach doesn't see something as clearly as the referee may (yes, it sounds strange, but sometimes we get it wrong as well).

At the end of the day, if we want our players to respect the referees, coaches need to do the same. Frustration happens, mistakes happen, tempers flare. Try your best to express your displeasure in as respectful a manner as possible.

"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation."

- John Wooden