What is a Loose Ball Foul in Basketball?

If you watch basketball on TV, whether it is the NBA or NCAA you have surely heard the announcers talk about a “loose ball foul”.

If you haven’t heard it on TV you may have heard a referee make the call in a game. What exactly is a loose ball foul?

If you are unsure, you’re not alone!

There is a little confusion out there about this and some sources that I have seen on the internet are not exactly correct.

Let’s take a look at what a “loose ball foul” really is and look at what some of the rule books state about it.

My Personal Experience

I have been involved with basketball in some way or form for over 40 years and I feel like I know what a loose ball foul is, but I wanted to do some research just to make sure my view was accurate.

When doing a search, I found there is a lot of misinformation out there. One article I saw focused on only rebounding, which there can be a loose ball foul during a rebound but that is not the only time.

I also saw something that said a loose ball foul does not count as a personal foul or a team foul, which to my knowledge, is incorrect.

Due to the confusion that I see out there, I decided to go to the NBA and NCAA rules books to see what they have to say.

I guess individual rec leagues and even state high school athletics may have different rules but I think the NBA and NCAA should cover most mainstream basketball rules.

The following is what I found out.

What is a Loose Ball Foul: Background

First I want to cover some background information to help make the discussion a little more clear. The following are some explanations of some of the terms that are used when discussing basketball fouls.

There are two categories of fouls in basketball:

1. Personal Foul

This is when one player commits a violation against an opposing player through physical contact which impedes the opposing player from moving freely about the court. Basketball is a game of great physical contact, so it is up to the referee to make the call on whether the violation is significant enough to call a personal foul.

2. Technical Foul

This type of foul occurs when a player or the team makes some type of “technical” violation of the rules. While it does not usually involve player contact, you will often see technical fouls when a fight breaks out. They are most commonly called for things like calling a time out when you have no time outs left or being disrespectful to the referee.

Team fouls are a cumulation of all the personal fouls committed by the players on a team within a specified period. Once the limit of team fouls is reached, the opposing team will receive bonus free throws for each additional foul and are said to be “in the bonus”.

  • Personal fouls always count toward team fouls.
  • Technical fouls may or may not count as a personal foul. This depends on the league rules.
  • There are different types of personal fouls such as :
    • Reach in foul
    • Blocking foul
    • Shooting foul
    • Over the back foul
    • Charging foul
    • Loose ball foul

I’m not going to go into details of all the basic fouls here but if you want to know more there are some links at the end of this article to the NBA and NCAA rule books if you would like to take a look at these in more detail. Let’s now take a closer look at what a “Loose Ball Foul” really is.

What is a Loose Ball Foul: Definition

From the above information, we can see that a loose ball foul is a type of personal foul, which means that a player has somehow physically impeded the movement of another player to a point where the referee will make the call.

In this case, the personal foul is taking place while the ball is “loose” on the court or in the air and neither team has possession of the ball. Here are a few examples of when a loose ball foul may occur:

  • A player loses or bobbles the ball and it is rolling around freely on the court. One player pushes the other out of the way in order to grab the ball.
  • A player throws a lob pass to their teammate but it is deflected and while the ball is in the air, an opposing player grabs the arms of the teammate who will receive the pass and keeps them from catching the ball.
  • A player’s shot is blocked and the ball falls to the court, but the player then pushes the opposing player to the ground so that they cannot retrieve the ball from the floor.
  • A rebound from a long shot is in the air, and one player grabs the arm of the other player so that they cannot jump up in the air to retrieve the rebound.

As you can see, loose ball fouls are common on misplays, pass deflections, shot blocks and rebounds and many times involve players rolling around on the floor fighting for the ball.

Take a look at this video from the NBA Video Rulebook, which shows a great example of a loose ball foul.

Loose ball fouls are often very rough and a great chance for injury since bodies are usually flying around the court. At this point, it is very important for the referee to blow the whistle and make the call quickly to stop play so that injury and fighting do not occur.

The most important part in determining if a foul is a loose ball foul is whether either team has possession of the ball. If the foul occurs while neither team has possession of the ball, then it can be defined as a loose ball foul.

Additional Resources

If you would like to see more details on the official rules of the NBA and the NCAA check out the following links:

Final Words

In basketball, a loose ball foul is a common type of a personal foul. These fouls occur when neither team has possession of the ball and one player physically contacts another player to prevent them from getting the ball.

There is a lot of confusion out there about loose ball fouls, so take the time to look at the official rule books if you have any questions or want to know more details about loose ball fouls.

What is your opinion on loose ball fouls? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments if you would like.

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