What is Bonus in Basketball? (NBA,College,FIBA Difference)

There are times where you will be watching a basketball game and suddenly see a player who was not fouled shooting a free throw, which could be very confusing if you aren’t familiar with basketball. Before this random free throw, you happened to hear the announcers say that one team is in “the bonus”. If you look at most scoreboards, you will likely find the word bonus located under the current score for each team.  But what does a bonus mean?

The Bonus Explained

In basketball for a team to be in bonus, the opposing team must reach a certain amount of fouls in a given period, when this happens the team will be awarded to shoot free throws after every foul the opposing team gets. Generally speaking, this is the definition of being in bonus, but it does vary slightly between basketball levels. “In the bonus” and “fouls to give” are two phrases you might hear when referring to the bonus.

How Fouls Come Into Play

As stated previously a team must reach a certain amount of fouls in order for a bonus situation to occur. Understanding how fouls come into play will help you better understand the bonus. To keep it rather simple, team fouls are the fouls we want to look at. Team fouls are the total number of player fouls accumulated in a quarter or half, which reset after each quarter or half depending on league rules. When a team is in bonus, it doesn’t matter if the foul is a shooting foul in order for them to reach the free-throw line. On any type of foul called against the defense, the team in bonus is allowed to go to the free-throw line. Offensive fouls count towards team fouls, but do not count towards shooting in the bonus.

Bonus Rules By League Level

Although the bonus has a general meaning, there are rules and factors that vary by league level. It’s important to know the rules for the specific league level you are watching, coaching, or playing in.

NBA Bonus Rules

NBA games have four quarters. For the NBA bonus rules, once the fifth team foul is committed within a quarter the bonus begins for the opposing team. Loose ball fouls and defensive fouls are both included in this. There are rules put in place to help prevent teams from committing multiple fouls without any penalty. In the final two minutes of a game (including overtime as well), there is a bonus rule unique to the NBA that is applied. This unique rule states that only one foul can be committed by a team during this period, if a second foul is made within the last two minutes, bonus free throws are automatically awarded to the opposing team.

Overtime has a rule of its own as well. Team fouls are reset to zero when an overtime extension is to take place. During this period, or any extra overtime periods (ie. double overtime), once the fourth team foul is committed only then is the bonus rule put in play. The opposing team is awarded the same as regular play with two free throws on a non-shooting defensive foul.

FIBA Bonus Rules

FIBA is the International Basketball Federation and its rules differ in several aspects of the game, the bonus is no exception. Once a team has committed its fifth team foul the FIBA bonus rule is set into place. The opposing team is awarded free throws beginning with that foul and all team fouls afterward. Defensive fouls are the only fouls awarded the bonus in FIBA. FIBA considers overtime as an extension of the last quarter in order to count team fouls.

NCAA Bonus Rules

At the collegiate level, NCAA men’s basketball games are not split into four quarters but instead split into two halves making its bonus rules different from FIBA and NBA rules. For the bonus to come into play there must be seven fouls in a half. When a team is in bonus they are given a “one and one”. It has a similar concept to the term one and done, but only if the first free throw is doesn’t make it in. If a player shoots the first free throw and makes it in they are awarded a second free throw attempt. If the player misses the first free throw, however, that’s it, they do not receive a second attempt at a free throw.

In NCAA men’s basketball, there is a double bonus rule as well. Once a team hits ten team fouls in a half, all fouls that are not shooting fouls are penalized and the opposing team is awarded two free throws no matter if they make or miss the first free throw attempt. Important to note that if a game goes into overtime it’s considered still in the second half as an extension. Due to this, team fouls will count to the half’s total. This is something teams have to look out for, because overtime is a result of such a close game. Any extra points for the opposing team could be detrimental. NCAA women’s basketball follows the bonus rules instituted by FIBA.

High School Bonus Rules

High school bonus rules follow that of the NCAA men’s rules. They have the bonus “one and one” applied at the seventh foul. Just like the NCAA men’s basketball’s double bonus rule, at the tenth foul a double bonus situation will be awarded and all team fouls are reset when the first half ends.

How Long the Bonus Lasts?

The bonus can be put in effect at any time throughout the game as long as a team gets the required number of fouls for it. The bonus period lasts until the end of a half at the NCAA and High School level, and at the end of the quarter in the NBA and FIBA. There is not an actual limit on how long the bonus can last in the quarter or half due to the bonus being dependent on a team committing the required number of fouls first.

Is the Bonus Actually Necessary in Basketball?

You might be thinking to yourself whether or not the bonus is necessary or integral to the game of basketball. Maybe you believe the bonus just seems like a rule that slows down the game because there is more opportunity for free throws. Well, there is a reason the bonus was created and it’s an important one.

Without the bonus rules, teams have the opportunity to continuously commit non-shooting fouls without there being any penalty for them. Yes, fouls are inevitable, but this rule discourages the use of them to strategically help a team run the clock down. It’s important to remember that the bonus does apply to non-shooting fouls. With, non-shooting fouls a player is sent to the out of bounds area, not the free throw line, which makes the team start their possession over. During crucial times where the score is close and the game is nearing the end, if the bonus rule wasn’t in effect a defensive team could commit a non-shooting foul on the offensive and force them to restart their possession, running out the clock. The bonus is a rule of fairness, and without it a game could actually become quite boring.

Is the Bonus Controversial?

The short answer is yes and this controversy can be notably recognized by two strategies that teams used to make fouling an opposing team an advantage.

Foul For Profit

In the 1983 NCAA Division, I Men’s Basketball Tournament, NC State coach Jim Valvano pulled the foul for profit strategy. Basically, closer to the end of the game NC State would foul Houston’s worst free throwers sending them to the line. The risk would be Houston gaining one point, the reward would be NC State rebounding, gaining possession, and scoring two to four points. This strategy won NC State the championship 54-52. The double bonus was created at the NCAA level to combat this.


Hack-a-Shaq is quite similar to the foul for profit strategy as they both target the opposing team’s worst free thrower. The hack-a-Shaq strategy is primarily used in the NBA, although not as much now due to the rules set in place to discourage it, such as the bonus.

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Final Words

Ultimately, the bonus was put into place to give teams a more equal playing field. Whether or not you deem it necessary, you have to agree that playing or watching a basketball game at any league level where teams can continuously foul, inherently slowing the game down, would be a boring one.

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