High school basketball players in Maine and around the country will be able to pursue the rebounds of missed free throws a little sooner beginning next winter, the result of one of four major rule changes recently approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Players in marked spaces along the free-throw lane will be able to move into the lane once the ball is released by the free-throw shooter beginning with the 2014-15 high school basketball season. Previously, players could not release until the ball touched the rim or backboard or until the free throw ended.

The new rule is identical to that used in the NCAA basketball ranks, said Maine basketball commissioner Peter Webb, who also serves on the 11-member NFHS Basketball Rules Committee representing New England, New York and New Jersey.

The change was made, according to the NFHS, because the former rule of players in marked lane spaces not releasing until the ball touched the ring or backboard created two obstacles for officials: attempting to watch the ball strike the rim or backboard while also attempting to observe if any players or the shooter violated the lane-line restrictions, and insufficient time for the perimeter officials to obtain the best angles to watch the players involved in rebounding a missed free throw.

The same rule was instituted 15 to 20 years ago, Webb said, but then was changed back to the players having to wait until the ball hit the rim or backboard until this latest revision.

“In recent years, we have moved players along the lane spaces up and removed excess players along the lane lines, so the rationale for changing this rule to its current status is no longer an issue,” said Theresia Wynns, NFHS director of sports and officials education and staff liaison to the NFHS Basketball Rules Committee.

Another rule change is designed to limit contact on ball-handlers and dribblers outside the lane area. Under the revision, the following will constitute a foul: a defender placing two hands on the ball-handler or dribbler; placing an armbar (forearm) on the ball-handler; placing and keeping one hand on the ball-handler; and contacting the ball-handler more than once with the same or alternating hand.

These instances previously have been defined as illegal-contact fouls and been established as a point of emphasis for officials several times during the last decade, Webb said. The move to formalize those types of fouls is seen as an additional effort to decrease the hand-checking and other contact designed to slow the offensive flow of a team.

“Everybody wants that cleaned up as much as possible, so it was put into the rule as even more of a dictate,” said Webb.

The definition of an intentional foul was expanded to “excessive contact with an opponent while the ball is live or until an airborne shooter returns to the floor.”

Webb said the change was designed to reduce the subjectivity in determining intentional fouls, with excessive or unnecessary contact becoming a more prominent factor in the rule rather than merely sheer intent.

The final rule change allows for the wearing of arm sleeves, knee sleeves, lower leg sleeves and tights in addition to knee braces, but the sleeves and tights must meet current color and logo restrictions. The sleeves or tights need to be beige, black, white or the predominant color of the team uniform, and teammates must wear the same color sleeves or tights.

This rule previously permitted only arm sleeves and leg-compression sleeves, with other gear subject to a doctor’s approval.

Webb said this change would take determining whether a player had received medical clearance to wear such gear out of the game officials’ hands as well as keeping all players’ uniforms more true to their school’s colors.

“The rule helps make uniforms as uniform as possible, because the kids are representing the schools and that’s what the schools want,” said Webb.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...