Sports Shorts: Has the traveling rule changed in basketball, or has the game?

Have the traveling rules in basketball changed, or has the game?
Have the traveling rules in basketball changed, or has the game?

A high school basketball player at Cahokia back in the 1960s, Sports Shorts reader John Catlett recalls how swiftly the whistle was blown if he or a teammate dared shuffle more than a step without dribbling.

Now players at all levels, he's observed, move freely down the court, palming the ball from the underside before turning it over with no apparent fear of being whistled.

He's given up watching the pro-game altogether because it seems like players can just about start their run at the goal from beyond the top of the key with impunity.

"Why is this allowed?" he asked in an email. "I used to enjoy college basketball before all this crap filtered down. Am I just an old bitter purist?"

No John, you're not. And you're not the only one confused by current interpretations of traveling rules.

WATCH: The worst travel non-call in history?

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Waterloo resident Ray Ripplemeyer questions it as well — and he officiated for years in the Big Ten and Missouri Valley Conference.

"Most dunks come after picking the pivot foot up and putting it down again to jump without a dribble," he wrote. "Also, they are letting people driving to the basket take two and three extra steps ... and no traveling is called.

"Have they changed the walking rule?"

Here's the answer: No, the rules have not changed. The game has.

There are subtle variations in the rules between the NBA, NCAA and high schools when it comes to traveling. Basically, they say it's a traveling violation to take two or more steps (players get the second step in the NBA) and provide copious detail as to when and how a player establishes the pivot foot.

I reached out to a couple of officials I know to see if they could explain how the same set of rules, over time, have evolved in the way they are enforced. I was soundly dismissed by some who simply don't recognize what the rest of us see.

But Mike Devening, who retired in 2013 after 46 years in black and white stripes, provided some insight.

One big factor, he says, is that the athletes today or bigger and faster and the evolved offensive schemes are more complex. Very simply, the speed of the game makes some infractions more difficult to see.

Moreover, though, he suggests referees need some discretionary leeway to account for the realities of today's superior athletes.

Another contributing factor to fan angst over travel calls certainly is the emergence of the so-called Euro-step. This is a legal move in which an offensive player picks up his dribble, plants one foot, then quickly takes a second step in another direction. You see this a lot when a player driving the goal takes on a bigger forward or center.

Fans see the second step and think it's traveling, but it's not. The player cannot pivot again, however, without passing or shooting, which is a call most of the refs I spoke to admitted is frequently missed.

In his email to me, Catlett said he hoped someday "to get some sensible explanation before I croak." I can't say I'm completely confident that these answers will satisfy his bucket list.

Neither is Mr. Devening, who hints at one final piece of the equation.

"All I really know is I see things a lot better with my popcorn in the stands than I ever did down on the court," he said. 


Congratulations are due the stellar slate of metro-east wrestlers who represented our region at the IHSA State Meet this weekend at the State Farm Center in Champaign. They brought home six second place finishes, two thirds, two fourths and a sixth.

And one state championship.

Althoff's Chase Bittle, a state qualifier all four years of his high school career, finished his season at a perfect 45-0, including a dominating victory over Herscher's Anthony Rink in the Class 1A 120-pound title match.

Rams get the boot?

When the St. Louis stadium task force unveiled its plans for a new NFL stadium on the city's north riverfront, part of the sales pitch to Rams' owner Stan Kroenke was the possibility he could generate new income by sub-leasing the stadium to a pro soccer franchise. Several of the conceptual depictions of the stadium, in fact, showed design features detailing how it would be converted to an MLS venue.

Kroenke chaffed, however, complaining that he wouldn't want to compete with the MLS for corporate sponsorship dollars or ticket sales. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber evidently felt the same.

Speaking to reporters at the MLS Super Draft, Garber said the departure of the Rams for LA actually gives St. Louis "a little more momentum" in its effort to bring pro soccer to town.

Speaking of which ...

It's ironic to me that while Kroenke complained St. Louis is no longer a "three-sport city," both the Cardinals and Blues were joining the effort to bring the MLS to town.

The nine-person MLS2STL committee organized to advance the cause of pro soccer in St. Louis includes Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III and Blues minority partner Jim Kavanaugh. This is just another indication that Kroenke is full of beans.

Not only do both the Cardinals and Blues actually win more games than they lose (unlike Kroenke's Rams), they make money. In fact, Forbes rates the Cardinals as the most profitable franchise in the major leagues. Why is it neither the Blues or Cardinals fear competition with a third pro sports franchise in town?

Choose a number

Mike Matheny last season gave up the old familiar No. 22 he wore through his playing career so right fielder Jason Heyward could have it. With Heyward on to Chicago's north side, the Cardinals' skipper confirmed he'll be shedding the No. 26 he adopted in deference to Heyward and reclaim the number that is rightfully his.

The Watch List

This week takes us head long into the thick of post-season prep basketball.

▪  Class 1A boys basketball regionals tip off Monday at Lebanon, while local 2A teams begin their post-seasons with regionals at Dupo, Wesclin and Greenville.

▪  Girls action continues as well. Central faces Camp Point Central in the Jacksonville Super-Sectional Monday with a repeat trip to the weekend's 2A state finals on the line. Both Highland and Civic Memorial will be at the Benton Sectional, which begins Monday.

▪  And if you're looking for a good game to watch, a drive to Alton for the 4A semifinal between Edwardville and Belleville East will be worth the trip. That game tips off at 7 p.m.

Don’t forget

I want your feedback. Got a question or a comment? Email me at; call me at (618) 239-2540; or write me at BND Sports, PO Box 437, Belleville, IL 62222.