The Three Second Rule

By Fred Hogan

The basic rule is simple enough. A player may not remain in the free throw lane (bounded by and including lane lines, end line, and free throw line) for more than three seconds while his team is in control of the ball in the frontcourt.

Obviously, step one in understanding “three seconds” is to understand “team control.” Team control begins when a player on either team establishes control of a live ball. Team control ends when a try for a goal is released or an opponent secures control or a violation or foul occurs.

The second step is to know when a player is in the free throw lane, or more importantly when a player ceases to be there. To enter the area, all that is necessary is that the player step onto or over the lane ( lane lines are considered a part of the lane). To leave the area, the player must move out of the invisible “box” that is the lane extended vertically. Merely lifting a foot does not does not constitute leaving the area.

The crucial point, however, is that officials must be aware of the provision of suspending The three second count. If a player who has been in the restricted area for fewer than three seconds receives the ball and immediately moves to the basket (dribbles or pivots) to try for a goal, the count is suspended to allow for completion of the try. The word was “suspended,” not “ended.” If the player completes the try, there is no violation, but if the player passes or aborts the try and in doing so has spent more than three seconds in the free throw area, a violation is called immediately. Remember this allowance pertains only to the player with the ball.

Similarly, if a player who has been in the free throw area for fewer than three seconds is making a serious attempt to leave the area, suspend the count to allow the player to do so. If he or she decides not to leave and has gained an advantage by being in the area for more than three seconds, and his team is still in control, call the violation immediately.

A final suggestion is to “sneak a peak.” Before calling a three second violation, take a Quick “peak.” Before calling a three-second violation, take a quick “peak”. To see where the ball is. If a shot is on the way or about to leave the shooter’s hand, swallow the whistle. One of life’s most “embarrassing moments is to call three seconds after team control has ended.