What Does Bonus Mean in College Basketball?

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While they’re worth the least in terms of points per make, free throws can be an efficient way to score points. Free throw shooters are unguarded; with practice, they can quickly drain about 80-95% of their chances. It has become such a weapon that players have begun practicing the skill of foul baiting – the act of trying to get fouled to put the other team in an early bonus situation that can lessen their defense’s aggressiveness on the court.

One of the best ways use free throws is to by getting into the bonus situation. By putting the other team in this predicament, even non-shooting fouls, result in bonus free throws. In fact, the Philadelphia 76ers upped their average points per game by scoring 19 free throws per game, a lot of which came from bonus free throws.

In this blog post, we will navigate the finer details of the bonus situation and learn its ins and outs in basketball.

What is a Basketball BonusWhat is a Basketball Bonus?

A team is said to be in the bonus when they reach a certain team foul threshold within one period or half. This threshold, often called the bonus cap, can differ from one league to the next. 

In a bonus situation, every subsequent team foul committed by your opponents beyond the bonus cap means automatic free throws for you. How many free throws depend on the league’s stipulations.

This particular rule incentivizes teams to play defense without fouling, giving the game more fluidity and action. Conversely, it penalizes a team for using too many fouls and playing defense too aggressively.

Because of this bonus situation rule, getting the other team to commit fouls has become an excellent strategy, affecting both the opposing players’ aggressiveness on the court and the team’s overall performance. It’s no coincidence that some of the highest-scoring players in the league are also on the list of top players in terms of free-throw attempts per game, such as Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.

What is a Basketball Bonus

Because of the importance of free throws, coaches often craft strategies that are aimed at creating mismatches which would most likely end up with the defense committing a foul to reach the bonus cap. They often do this by targeting the opposing team’s poorest defenders and attacking them relentlessly.

How Does Bonus Work in College BasketballHow Does Bonus Work in College Basketball?

If, like most people, you started watching basketball through the NBA, and then only recently started watching the NCAA, then you’ve probably already asked yourself, what does bonus mean in college basketball? The rules on penalty situations doesn’t seem to be consistent across the two leagues.

In college basketball bonus rules, a team is only guaranteed one free throw when the other team is in the bonus. A second free throw is only given to the team if their shooter was able to make their first attempt. This has become known as the one-and-one shot.

The one-and-one situation shows that the NCAA is active at trying to lessen foul baiting and focuses more on fluid offensive actions designed to score field goals. It also adds to the game’s pace making it more entertaining to watch. The added pressure on players to sink their free throws also adds a bit more excitement to the game.

At the same time, bonus and bonus plus in college basketball introduces a critical strategic layer to the game because the chances of the other team missing their lone guaranteed free throw mean that the possession could ultimately end up as a non-scoring one, making it a bit easier for teams to come from behind with tactical fouling strategies.

What Does Double Bonus Mean in College BasketballWhat Does Double Bonus Mean in College Basketball?

The NCAA, however, adds another layer of complexity to the bonus rule by instituting another level of penalty situation. NCAA rules stipulate that if a team reaches a higher bonus cap, every succeeding foul they commit means two guaranteed free throws for their opponents, even if their free throw shooter misses the first one. This is called the double bonus.

What Does Double Bonus Mean in College Basketball

So, what does double bonus mean in basketball? It prevents teams from abusing the one-and-one by putting a premium on late-game fouls. When a team reaches the double bonus, every foul they commit gives the other team two guaranteed free throws instead of just the one-and-one. 

By guaranteeing a second free throw, teams in the lead have more chances of extending their lead, so the trailing team should think twice about using their fouls to make the clock stop or take their chance to force the other team into a non-scoring possession. On the other hand, putting a leading team in the double bonus situation through foul baiting can help trailing teams catch up quicker, making the game more interesting for fans and more tactical for players and coaches.

The NCAA is the only league in North America with this multi-tiered bonus situation.

How Many Fouls Does It Take to Get a BonusHow Many Fouls Does It Take to Get a Bonus?

So, now that we know what happens when a team is in the bonus situation, it’s time to find out exactly how many fouls it takes to get there. But, for the time being, let’s stick with college basketball.

After a team reaches 6 team fouls in a half, they’re automatically in the bonus situation. This means every time they commit a team foul from then on awards the other team with a one-and-one. 

A team that reaches the 9 team foul bonus cap per half, on the other hand, is automatically put in a state of double bonus. This means that every foul that constitutes as a team foul after that point, gives the other team two free throws.

On the other hand, the NBA and FIBA set just one bonus cap of 4 team fouls per quarter. This means on the fifth and every subsequent foul thereafter, the other team is automatically awarded 2 bonus free throws.

How Many Fouls Does It Take to Get a Bonus

Do Offensive Fouls Deduct from BonusDo Offensive Fouls Deduct from Bonus?

For teams who want to steer clear from the bonus situation, it’s important to remember that only fouls that constitute a team foul counts toward bonus cap. This means that the opposing team must accumulate enough team fouls before you can get your bonus free throws.

So, the short answer is no. Offensive fouls don’t deduct from bonus since they don’t count as team fouls. However, Class A technical fouls such as taunting, profanities, arguing with the officials, and other unsportsmanlike acts also contribute to the team foul count. These types of atypical fouls, therefore, add to the bonus.

What Happens If a Team's Bonus Cap is ExceededWhat Happens If a Team’s Bonus Cap is Exceeded?

When a team exceeds its bonus cap of six fouls per half, they are said to be in a penalty situation. So, the 7th team foul in the half automatically gives the other team an opportunity to score with a one-and-one free throw.

A higher bonus cap is set at 9 fouls in a half. This means that, like the regular bonus, teams have to give up some free throw opportunities for the other team if they gain their 10th, 11th, and all other subsequent team fouls in the half.

In case you’re asking, overtimes in the NCAA is considered just an extension of the second half. This means team fouls are carried over. This means that teams that are already in the penalty when regulation time ended are still in the penalty once overtime period commences.

The overtime team foul carry-over rule also applies to FIBA. However, it’s still FIBA’s bonus caps that prevail.

In the NBA, however, team fouls are reset in overtime. This entitles teams to 4 team fouls again at the beginning of overtime before they have to worry about the other team shooting bonus free throws.

Difference Between Bonus in College, NBA, and FIBADifference Between Bonus in College, NBA, and FIBA

Difference Between Bonus in College, NBA, and FIBA

The bonus situation is a transcendent rule in any league. This means that every league has a version of it in effect, whether it’s the NBA, FIBA, NCAA, or even the Women’s NCAA. Where they differ is in the implementation.

Currently, NCAA is the only league with a double bonus situation rule in effect. However, each league has their own implementation of the penalty situation. We’ll dive deep into these differences right here:

NBA Rules: Bonus Situation

In the NBA, teams are automatically in the penalty situation on their fifth team foul in the period. This means that after their fourth team foul, subsequent fouls that constitute a team foul after that point means that their opponents will be rewarded the bonus free throws.

Where they vary even further is that two free throws are guaranteed in the NBA. The one-and-one free throw rule is not in effect here. Instead, once a team commits a defensive, loose ball, or a Class A technical foul after they’ve gone beyond the four-foul bonus cap, their opponents are automatically awarded two free throws.

Another point of difference between bonus in college basketball and NBA is that the bonus cap is essentially reduced during the last two minutes of the quarter as stipulated by a recent NBA bonus rule change. This means that even if a team hasn’t reached the bonus cap yet, their opponents are awarded bonus free throws if the team commits their second team foul during any quarter’s last two minutes. This penalty prevents teams from playing overaggressive defense or intentionally fouling at the end of the quarter to squeeze out more possessions.

If in case the game goes into overtime, the team foul resets in the NBA, as opposed to NCAA’s rules that dictate that they be carried over onto the extra period.

FIBA Rules: Bonus Situation

In international basketball, the rules also differ slightly. For example, FIBA rules on bonus situations are more straightforward than the NBA and the NCAA.

To be exact, the last 2-minute rule penalty situation in the NBA does not exist in FIBA. This means the opposing team must draw fouls up to the bonus cap before they’re entitled to bonus free throws, no matter what point of the game they’re in.

Where the NCAA and FIBA rules intersect, however, is in their treatment of team fouls in overtime periods. In both leagues, team fouls are carried over to overtime as they’re treated merely as an extension of the last half in the NCAA and the last quarter in FIBA.

Wrapping Things Up: What Does Bonus Mean in College Basketball?

In college basketball, the bonus situation is when a team has committed more than six fouls in a half. This results in their opponents being awarded one free throw with a chance of earning another one for each subsequent foul that contributes to the team’s foul total.

To provide some escalation, a team that commits ten or more team fouls in a half is said to have put itself in a double bonus situation. At this point, every subsequent foul means giving up two guaranteed bonus free throws to the other team.

The bonus situation exists in other leagues as well, such as the NBA and FIBA. However, the rules differ slightly in each case. In the NBA, teams are automatically in the bonus situation on their fifth team foul in the period. This means that after their fourth team foul, subsequent fouls that constitute a team foul after that point means that their opponents will be rewarded the bonus free throws. In FIBA, the last two-minute rule change in the NBA does not exist, which means that the opposing team must draw fouls up to the bonus cap before they’re entitled to bonus free throws, no matter what point of the game they’re in.

Although the rules may differ slightly between leagues, the bonus situation is a fundamental rule in basketball at all levels. And the slight differences also play a part in making things interesting for both players and fans. Understanding when your team is in the bonus and how to take advantage of it can be the difference between winning and losing.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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