Official College Basketball Rules


Basketball was created in 1892 by Dr. James Naismith, a physical education instructor in Springfield, Massachusetts, who needed to find something physically challenging for his students to do indoors during the harsh winters in the Northeast. He penned 13 original rules that have developed into the game we know and love today. Those rules, which could fit on a single page, have morphed into lengthy rule books, including the one used by the NCAA at the collegiate level.

Court Specifications

  • The dimensions of the court and the components of the goal are standardized in college basketball. The court is 94 feet by 50 feet, with a center line dividing it into halves. The goals protrude 4 feet from the court's end lines and are 10 feet high, and the diameter of the baskets are 18 inches. The backboards are 72 inches by 42 inches.


  • Scoring in basketball always has been in one- and two-point increments. One point is rewarded for a free throw, while two points are rewarded for any other basket, known as a field goal. The free throw line is 13 feet 9 inches away from the center of the basket. In 1980, the NCAA's Southern Conference experimented with a 3-point line 22 feet from the basket. Any basket scored from behind the semi-circular line was worth three points. Within five years, all NCAA conferences adopted the 3-point line, and in 1986 the NCAA adjusted the distance to 19 feet, 9 inches. In 2007, the NCAA moved the line back 1 foot, to 20 feet, 9 inches.


  • In the sports' beginning, basketball games were low-scoring affairs, and teams often held the basketball for long periods without attempting to score and without being penalized. To address this, the NCAA introduced the rule that a team has 10 seconds to advance the ball past halfcourt. A five-second rule was implemented that gives the defense possession of the ball if, in the judgment of the referee, a defender closely guards an offensive player for five seconds. The most effective time rule was the addition of the 45-second clock during the 1985-1986 season, which limited the amount of time a team had to get a shot off to 45 seconds. Before the 1993-94 season, the time was lowered to 35 seconds. In NCAA women's basketball, there is no 10-second violation, and the shot clock is set to 30 seconds.


  • There are three main dribbling violations: traveling, double dribble and "carrying" the basketball. Traveling, in its basic definition, occurs when a player moves his feet in excess before dribbling or after picking up his dribble, or when he moves his pivot foot in excess of the limit. A player generally is allowed to move 2 1/2 steps without dribbling. A player is also not allowed to dribble the ball with both hands at the same time or pick up his dribble and then dribble again. Both are double dribble violations. "Carrying," or "palming," is a violation that occurs when the player is dribbling and brings his hand under the ball to maintain control. All three of these violations result in the opposing team gaining possession of the ball.

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  • Photo Credit Basketball Court image by Jim Mills from
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