Protecting the Free Thrower

When is the “unhindered” line crossed?

By NFHS definition a free throw is an opportunity given a player to score one point by an UNHINDERED try for goal from within the free-throw semicircle and behind the free-throw line.

The key word here is “unhindered.”

Starting this year scholastic rules have been modified to allow players in marked lane spaces to move into the restricted area on the release of the free-throw try.  While we understand the intent of this change is to mirror NCAA rules while still maintaining balance between defense / offense – there are some unintended consequences I’ve personally noticed this season.

The biggest negative observation based on the rule change from last year to this year regards illegal contact with the free-thrower from opponents in marked lane spaces.

Watch the video below … then come back to finish reading our “60 Seconds on Officiating” point of view around this topic.


So what do you think after watching?

  • Is boxing out the free-thrower a legal activity?
  • Should any contact with the free-thrower be permitted?
  • When is the “unhindered” line crossed?

The free-thrower is restricted from entering the lane area until ball touches the ring or backboard – or the free-throw ends.  But players in the marked lane spaces are allowed to move on the release and enter the semicircle where the opponent free-thrower is.  This results in situations like depicted in the above video where contact (sometimes excessive and dangerous) occurs to an opponent that is expecting to be unhindered in their try.

Personally I think this is a new problem which needs addressing by one of several potential rule clarifications or points of emphasis for 2015-16.

  • Restrict this Area to the Free-Thrower Only – make it a violation (delayed dead ball) if the opponent violates this space.  This might be enough to clean this up.
  • Any Contact is Illegal – adjust the contact rules to make a free-thrower similar to an airborne shooter.  Any contact until the free-throw is complete should be considered the same as if they were airborne.  It’s a common foul and based on severity could be considered intentional.
  • Any Contact is Illegal and Intentional –  makes sense to protect this player, so up the ante to be more severe if contact is made.

It’s just a matter of time, if it hasn’t happened already, where a player will suffer an unnecessary injury from an opponent backing down hard into the free-thrower as they are focusing on their unhindered try for goal.

My recommendation for the remainder of this season is simple.

Talk about this potential situation in your pre-game conference with the crew.  Be ready for this type of foul as the Trail (in crews of two) and Center official (in crews of three) – and rule accordingly.

Please post your comments, ideas, and observations to this story.  We love to hear your perspective and experiences across the “Ref60 Nation.”

NFHS Rule References
4-19-3,4-20-1,9-1-4. 10-6-1



About Billy Martin

Co-creator of "60 Seconds on Officiating" and co-author of Beyond the Rules (book series) for Basketball Officials. Billy is a 35+ year basketball official with IAABO (Camden Board 34 and Cum-Cape 196, in Southern NJ). He also is a collegiate softball umpire with the Eastern Collegiate Softball Umpires (ECSU), and created the best selling "Bluebook 60" for fastpitch umpires, and coaches. Contact: Website | Twitter | More Posts

14 Comments on Protecting the Free Thrower

  1. We don’t need more rules to defend the rules that we have. ‘We’ need to CALL what it is. Displacement.
    Have our peers do their jobs and call what is already in the Rule Book.
    I am ok letting the players into the lane, creating a new boundary just makes another hair to split. There is NOTHING wrong with a player entering the arc if done so legally. Thus, Penalize them when they don’t.
    Assessors who ignore officials who selectively call certain rules are only compounding the problem. Thus rewarding officials who cause questions like this one to even be discussed. If officials called what was in the rule book, we would never need another rule and eventually have an enjoyable game of skill again.

  2. Two comments:
    1) There is a clear violation by Team A on the first shot, when three of her teammates come in and “high five” her after the first free throw. There should be a warning for delay, but none is given.
    2) The foul on the second shot is a common foul. It does not meet the criteria for an intentional foul. There is no need for additional rules to protect the shooter. We just need to call fouls when they occur.

  3.' Wiliam H. McKernan // March 1, 2015 at 12:36 pm // Reply

    From a Connecticut IAABO “2014-15 New Rules” Power Point slide:

    If the defender along the free throw lane line breaks the plane of the free throw line, a violation has occurred. Use delayed violation signal. Hold whistle until free throw is completed. If free throw is made, ignore violation; if free throw is missed, award a replacement free throw. (9-1-3-B)

    If there is contact on the free throw shooter by the defender who breaks the free throw line plane, ignore contact unless intentional. (9-1-3-B)

    These same interpretations were published by Peter Webb, IAABO (International)Coordinator of Interpreters, in a recent issue of Sportorial magazine. These interpretations have been utilized in at least three states, Connecticut, Maine, and South Carolina.

    As far as I know, these interpretations have not been confirmed by the NFHS, but, with Mr. Webb on the basketball rules committee, may be put in place next year.

  4.' Wiliam H. McKernan // March 1, 2015 at 1:00 pm // Reply

    This rule (9-9 below) appeared in the 1996-97 NFHS Basketball Rulebook, the year before they, again, changed release to hit.

    9-9: No opponent occupying a marked lane space shall break the plane of the free throw line. Note: The restriction applies until the ball touches the ring, or backboard, or until the free throw ends.

    I’m surprised that the NFHS did not include this in the “new” 2014-15 free throw restriction rule.

  5.' Bill Siedling IAABO BOARD 214 A longtime IAABO Interpreter // March 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm // Reply

    Did some research and discovered this issue was a rule change by the NFHS in 1993-1994 season. Rule 9-1-9…”A player occupying a marked lane space shall not break the plane on the free throw line. The restrictions apply until the ball touches the ring, or backboard, or until the free throw ends.” Quoting from the IAABO CASEBOOK found in the handbook for 1993-1994 page 7 it states….”If a violation occurs, a substitute free throw is awarded if the attempt is unsuccessful. If the attempt is successful, the violation is ignored. If the defender’s violation disconcerts the free thrower and the free thrower then violates, a substitute free throw is awarded. If a violation by the defender is followed with a foul, both the violation and the foul are penalized. A violation is to be called when any part of the offending player’s body breaks the plane of the free throw line. The free thrower is to be given the area in the semicircle to have an unhindered opportunity to score a point.”

    Following this information above, there are 4 distinct caseplays listed regarding this rule change.

  6. albattista12@comcast.nert' Al battista // March 3, 2015 at 9:17 am // Reply

    Good job by the trail official, He has a “Big Picture Mentality” and he has excellent awareness .Al Battista

  7. The defender fouled the same as if another player attempted a shot and on the box out a player from the defense boxed out by backing a offense player out. Boxing out do not mean back them out. It was called a common foul because it fit within the rule.

  8. I had a play this year where the free throw shooter was boxed out hard enough that her knee was hyperextended. The foul was obviously hard enough to have an intentional, but the official called a common foul. At least he did that…I see many officials let that go

  9. The sad part is I have seen this enough this season to assume this is how they are teaching it. And when the foul is called every coach has said to me they are only boxing out!

  10.' Ray McClure // May 8, 2015 at 12:39 pm // Reply

    If the Free Thrower can’t cross the Free Throw line until the ball makes contact with “something” up there…neither can the defense cross the Free Throw Line until the ball hits something. Last year’s rule change allows the players who are lined up along the free throw lane lines to enter the LANE on RELEASE…not enter the Semi-Circle.

  11. NFHS 2014-2015 rule 4.42.2: delay of game warning for contacting the free throw shooter. Rule 9.1.3c: no opponent shall disconcerting free thrower. Rule 9.1.4: these restrictions apply until the ball touches the rim, backboard, or until the free throw ends.

  12. I am struggling with being able to watch the ball hit the rim or backboard, watch the shooter to see if he/she violates before it hits and see an opponent violate or foul all at the same time. Any help on how you are able to see it all?


  13. SteveO — I might suggest make your focus on the players versus the ball in flight. One step toward the division line , behind the free throw line extended is where I prefer to be. I can see the free-thrower, and the two players in the opposite, upper marked lane spaces.

    You can typically hear / see by the player reactions if the ball misses the ring, to cause a violation.

    Thanks what I do and it seems to work fine.

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