5-Second Rule in Basketball: How the Referee Points Out 5s Rule Violation? 

Morgan Wolf

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5-Second Rule in Basketball

Earlier, we explored different rules and regulations of basketball. But did we miss the famous 5-Second Rule in Basketball? 

There are 10 basic rules of basketball in your rule book and the 5-Second Rule is one of them. Today, we are going to cover everything about this timing rule.  

The 5-Second Rule is one of the timing rules in basketball. It maintains the flow of the game ensuring a minimum wastage of time.

You may find slight variations in the rule from NBA and NCAA, but the overall goal is the same to improve the pace of the match. 

Let’s get started then! 

The 5-Second Rule in Basketball

Different timing rules are applied throughout different stages of the gameplay. The 5 Second Rule applies to players who are closely guarded by opposing players. 

The rule guarantees a player in possession of the ball has five seconds to either shoot the ball, pass it to a teammate, or make a dribble move while being closely guarded. 

It is done to put a surrounding player in motion and ensure he doesn’t take longer to pass the ball or attempt to shoot.  

However, as mentioned earlier, different organizations apply the 5-second rule differently. For NBA, the 5-second rule is only applicable to the frontcourt.

In NBA, when a player in possession of the ball is surrounded by offensive players is not allowed to dribble the ball with his back or any side of the basket for more than five seconds. 

Interestingly, this alteration in NBA 5-second rule is known as the Charles Barkley; because the rule was first introduced in 1999 by the Hall of Fame forward, Charles Barkley. 

However, NCAA can be as clear as they want with the 5-second rule. The rule applies equally to the front court and back court (NCAA Women’s Basketball). 

Besides, with the 5-second rule, there are three other 5-second violations. Today, we will learn about all of them. 

The Four Types of 5-Second Rules 

The Four Types of 5-Second Rules 

Source: basketballbuckets.com

It may sound interesting. But in Basketball, having four rules with the same time limit is not a coincidence. Let’s start with the first one, 

1) Out-of-bounds/ Throw In Violation 

With the rules set, in basketball, a team has five seconds to throw the ball toward the court while inbounding the ball. Otherwise, there will be a throw-in violation.   

The clock starts to count when the ball is in the possession of the team throwing it in. Generally when the ball reaches a player by bouncing or handing over while officially out of bounds.

The 5-second out-of-bounds was one of the 13 original rules of basketball. It is applied in different basketball leagues including NBA and NCAA.  

Any violation of this rule will result in ball turnover or loss of possession; meaning your opponent shall receive the ball out of bounds at the free throw line extended.  

2) Back-to-The-Basket Violation 

According to this rule, when an offensive player is in the front court below the free throw line extended and heavily guarded by an opponent, can’t dribble the ball with his back or to the side of the basket for more than five seconds.  

The clock stops when the offensive player doesn’t dribble anymore or moves forward the free-throw line is extended. Furthermore, if a defender diverts the ball in any other direction, the count shall stop too.  

This 5-second rule in Basketball only applies to the NBA but the NCAA yet doesn’t quite favor the rule. It first appeared in 1999; initially known as the Charles Barkley Rule. Why?  

Because Charles Barkley from the Houston Rockets was popular for his back-to-basket dribbling move. Eventually, the 5-second violation emerged near the end of his career.  

However, if the offensive team keeps possession of the ball for more than 5 seconds, it will result in a violation and he might lose the ball to his opponent. His opponent then can get the ball out-of-bounds at the free throw line extended. 

3) Closely Guarded Violation

This rule only applies to the NCAA; but not in the NBA. However, it comes differently for NCAA men’s and women’s rule. 

In the NCAA rulebook, the closely guarded rule remains under Rule 9, Section 14; Violation & Penalties – Closely Guarded. 

The rule states that defenders can not continuously guard the ball-handler for more than 5 seconds; otherwise, the count shall be restarted. However, if the defensive players switch, the count shall restart. 

For NCAA Mens’ League, the defender must remain within 6 feet of the player he is guarding in the front court. 

However, the rule slightly differs for the women of the NCAA. For the women’s league, the defender must be within three feet of the player in possession (only applicable to offensive players) of the ball; despite where she is standing on the court. 

And with the involvement of one player getting between the defender and the ball handler, the count shall break. For instance, think about a screener.  

It was first created in 1930; during this time a jump ball was awarded for violation of this rule. Back in 1982, the form of penalty changed to a turnover.

Even though this 5-second rule in basketball faced elimination in 1993, it was resumed in 1997 again. 

Penalty for Closely Guarded Violation

Based on NCAA official rule book (Section 14), 

“ The ball shall become dead or remain dead when a violation occurs. … The ball shall be awarded to an opponent for a throw-in … ”

All four 5-second rules share the same fate in penalty. Closely Guarded Violation is not exceptional too.

The only difference lies in the spot of the free throw. The opposing team shall receive the ball at the out-of-bound zone closest to the violation spot.  


Even though the 5-Second Closely Guarded Violation does not apply to NBA, it applies equally to FIBA. However, the defender must remain within 3.28 feet (1 meter) within the radius of the player in possession of the ball.
In FIBA, it can happen anywhere on the court, unlike the men’s rule of following the front court. 

Learn more about the front court here

4) Free Throw Violation (FIBA rule)

It is not for players in possession of the ball; rather this rule applies to the free throw shoot. As interesting as it may sound, according to this rule, a player must release the free throw within 5 seconds.  

The count starts after FIBA professionals insert the ball at the player’s disposal, and the player has five seconds to throw. 

When it comes to NBA or NCAA, both leagues have at least 10 seconds before releasing the ball with a free throw. But FIBA totally goes against it and officially has half the available time to release the ball.

The 5-second free throw violation has been going on for decades in the FIBA. Violation of this rule will result in loss of possession of the ball to the opponent. The opposing team shall receive the ball out-of-bounds on any sideline of the free throw line extended. 

Penalties will be met for 10 seconds in the NBA and NCAA; and for 5 seconds in FIBA. However, there have been no official records of penalties in the NBA for this rule.

Except for Dwight Howard, who got into the penalty zone quite a few times due to his lengthy habit of free throws around 2011. 

With different timing rules available in basketball, let’s take a look at a few other time violations in basketball. 

Is There A 3-Second Rule In Basketball?

Yes, the three-second rule, also mentioned as the three in the key is to prevent any player from taking too long in the foul lane. 

The 3-second rule implied that a player can not remain more than 3 seconds in their team’s foul lane or the key; while his team has control of the live ball in the front court. 

The count starts when the player’s one foot gets into the foul lane and resets when both of his feet leave the area.  

It was first introduced in 1936; and applies equally to NBA, NCAA, and FIBA. 

Does The NBA Have A 10-Second Rule?

Yes, the 10 seconds rule applies to the possession of the basketball. No team shall be allowed to keep the ball in possession for more than 10 seconds.

It was first introduced in 1933 and is known as the first restriction rule in the possession of the ball. It started with the 10-second restriction in possession of the ball. 

Later in 2000 and 2001, FIBA and NBA changed to the 8-second limit on ball possession respectively. However, for NCAA, college basketball, the possession limit remains the same – players have 10 seconds to pass down the ball. 

Hand Signals for 5 Seconds Violation

So far, we have learned about what the 5-second rule in basketball is and what are the variations including their penalties. But in the instance of any violation of the five-second rule; how does the message is conveyed? 

Not by shouting or whistling a blow, violation can be pointed out with simple hand gestures. And in this part, we will learn about the hand signals used in NBA and NCAA. 

NBA Official Hand Signals

Simple hand gestures help referees maintain a fair and promising end of the play. Here are six hand signals used by referees to point out a 5-second rule violation in NBA. 

  • Fist Closed: It represents the beginning of the 5-second count. 
  • Open Hand: The open hand refers to the stop sign to end the five-second dribble by the player in possession of the ball. 
  • Extended Palms: The referee will spread their palms in parallel to indicate a closely guarded violation. 
  • Two Hands Downwards: When an offensive player takes more than 5 seconds; from the three-point line toward the midfield behind the basket, it will take more than 5 seconds.
    Thus, referees will have two hands pointing downward with an angle from their body to indicate additional time has been taken.
  • Crossed Arms Below the Waist: It is similar to NCAA hand signs. When a referee crosses his arm below the waist point, it means the defender has come too close surpassing the six feet limit.
    It also represents the expiration of five seconds while his guarding ends up turning around their torso.
  • Additional Possession Time: The referee’s both hands will signal additional use of time in accordance with the legal defensive resets. 
    Defensive Violation: When a defender fails to deliver a move within five seconds, it pays back in a defensive violation. 

Here are the common and basic forms of hand gestures related to the NBA 5-second rule in basketball. However, there may be additional hand positions or verbal declarations to further solidify different rules of the play.
Hand gestures can be used by both referees and coaches and may vary based on different levels of the play; from collegiate to professional. 

NCAA Official Hand Signals

Now, it’s time for the NCAA hand signals. While the number is fewer than the official hand gestures of the NBA, don’t forget to take a look at them.
Be aware of active hand signs and it will help you understand the play better indifferent of leagues and different organizations. 

Here are the hand signals used by NCAA officials: 

  • One Hand Held Up: When the referee holds one hand up while his other hand is down, it is a warning sign to the ball handler who is about to expire with the 5-second limit.
  • Closed Fist Held Up: With the referee’s closed fist held up, it points out the expiration of the 5-second limit; resulting in a turnover or loss of possession.
  • Open Palm: An open palm towards the defender warns him about the contact violation. Mark that, it is different from making fouls or the defensive holding fouls.

Here are the few common hand gestures used by NCAA officials in regard to the 5-second violation. However, officials can also command or use other hand signals to request further information about the possession or the time limit. 

Be someone who is about to start his career in basketball playing, refereeing, or as a coach, it is a MUST to know about the hand signs and the rule violations.
Today, we are talking about 5-second rule violations but there is still a lot to learn in basketball. 

Highlights Of The Article

Since we are almost at the end of our article and our guide is quite long, here are a few highlights for you to get things better in mind.

  • The 5-second rule in basketball must have one player in possession of the ball. He must either shoot, dribble or pass the ball to his teammate within the 5-second limit.
  • Different leagues have adapted to their own form of the 5-second rule. For example, the NCAA closely guarded rule is a direct variation of the original 5-second rule in basketball.
    It ensures a player doesn’t hold the ball for more than 5 seconds without having a move; especially when being closely shielded by a defender.
  • Other timing rules in the NBA include the 10-Second Rule, the 3-Second Rule, the 24-Second Rule, and many others.   
  • Violation of the 5-second rule in basketball will result in a turnover or loss of possession of the ball. Indifferent to the leagues the penalties are pretty much the same. 
  • Basketball officials may use hand signals or verbal clarifications to point out the violation, expiration, or reaching close to the limitation of the 5-second expiration rule.  

Finals Words

The 5-second rule in basketball is essential to maintain rapid possession of the ball and ensure strategic gameplay. The rule also ensures no unethical ball hold is performed on the field.

Such as, under this rule, a player can’t hold the ball for too long as it requires a continuous change of hands. Thus, the players remain careful of the time limit and stay mindful of the game. 

That is how the 5-second rule promotes efficiency and the fast speed of the game. Since 1950, the five-second rule has been seen around the basketball sport and it prevails to this day.

We hope we covered everything you needed to know about the 5-second rule in basketball. But for more, keep in touch with us. 

Also, don’t forget to share this article with your friends who are crazy fans of basketball. 

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Morgan Wolf

Journalist with experience covering the intersection of sports with business. Demonstrated expertise in digital, video and social media content covering major sports including soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, tennis and Olympic sports. But basketball is his passion. Specialties: expert for sports related content management LinkedIn