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Fair catch

Fair catch

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A fair catch is a feature of American football
American football
American football is a sport played between two teams of eleven with the objective of scoring points by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone. Known in the United States simply as football, it may also be referred to informally as gridiron football. The ball can be advanced by...

 and several other codes of football
Football
Football may refer to one of a number of team sports which all involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with the foot to score a goal. The most popular of these sports worldwide is association football, more commonly known as just "football" or "soccer"...

, in which a player attempting to catch a ball kicked by the opposing team – either on a kickoff
Kickoff (American football)
A kickoff is a method of starting a drive in American football and Canadian football. Typically, a kickoff consists of one team – the "kicking team" – kicking the ball to the opposing team – the "receiving team"...

 or punt – is entitled to catch the ball without interference from any member of the kicking team. A ball caught in this manner becomes dead
Dead ball
Dead ball is a phenomenon in many sports in which the ball is deemed temporarily not playable, and no movement may be made with it or the players from their respective positions of significance...

 once caught, i.e., the player catching the ball is not entitled to run with the ball in an attempt to gain yardage, and the receiving team begins their drive at the spot where the ball was caught. A player wishing to make a fair catch signals his intent by extending one arm above his head and waving it while the kicked ball is in flight.

The primary reason for the fair catch rule is to protect the receiver. A receiver directs his attention toward the incoming punt and cannot focus on the defenders running towards him. He is quite vulnerable to injury and is also at risk for fumbling the kick if the punter intentionally makes a high short kick to allow defenders time to hit the receiver. The XFL
XFL
The XFL was a professional American football league that played for one season in 2001. The league was founded by Vince McMahon, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of WWE...

 removed the fair catch rule in an effort to make the game more "extreme." Canadian football
Canadian football
Canadian football is a form of gridiron football played exclusively in Canada in which two teams of 12 players each compete for territorial control of a field of play long and wide attempting to advance a pointed prolate spheroid ball into the opposing team's scoring area...

 and Arena football
Arena football
Arena football is a variety of gridiron football played by the Arena Football League . It is a proprietary game, the rights to which are owned by Gridiron Enterprises, and is played indoors on a smaller field than American or Canadian outdoor football, resulting in a faster and higher-scoring game....

 also do not have fair catch rules.

In rugby union
Rugby union
Rugby union, often simply referred to as rugby, is a full contact team sport which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand...

 and Australian rules football
Australian rules football
Australian rules football, officially known as Australian football, also called football, Aussie rules or footy is a sport played between two teams of 22 players on either...

, a fair catch is called a mark; see mark (Australian football)
Mark (Australian football)
A mark is a skill in Australian rules football where a player cleanly catches a kicked ball that has travelled more than 15 metres without anyone else touching it or the ball hitting the ground....

 and mark (rugby)
Mark (rugby)
To mark a ball in rugby union, the player must be inside that player's twenty-two metre line. The mark is performed by a player , making a clean catch and shouting "Mark!". It is also common for the player to touch the ball on the ground to make his intentions clear to the referee and other...

 for more information on fair catches in those games. Fair catches featured in some extinct forms of football, and they have been abolished in other modern codes.

American football



In American football, a member of the team receiving a punt
Punt (football)
In some codes of football, a punt is a play in which a player drops the ball and kicks it before it touches the ground. A punt is in contrast to a drop kick, in which the ball touches the ground before being kicked....

 or kick
Kickoff (American football)
A kickoff is a method of starting a drive in American football and Canadian football. Typically, a kickoff consists of one team – the "kicking team" – kicking the ball to the opposing team – the "receiving team"...

, may signal for a "fair catch". To signal fair catch the receiver must raise one arm fully above his head and wave it side to side, while the ball is in flight. After the signal is made, no opponent may interfere with the fair catcher, the ball or his path to the ball and the receiver may not attempt to advance the ball. If the receiver fails to give a proper signal (arm not fully extended) the receiving team is penalized five yards for an invalid fair catch signal, marked from spot of the signal. It is also illegal for the offense to signal a fair catch from an on-sides kick. The offending team is charged with a 5 yard penalty.

A player signaling for a fair catch is not required to catch the ball; however, after making the signal, he may not initiate contact with any member of the kicking team until the ball is touched by another player. If he does he will be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct
Unsportsmanlike conduct
Unsportsmanlike conduct is a foul or offense in many sports that is not necessarily a violation of the respective sport's rules of play, but violates the sport's generally accepted rules of sportsmanship and/or participant conduct...

. If the ball hits the ground or a member of the kicking team, the fair catch signal is off and rules for kicked balls apply. If the receiver "muffs" the ball (touches it, but then fails to field it cleanly), then the ball can be recovered by the kicking team once the ball touches the ground.

A "personal foul" for kick catch interference and a 15 yard penalty is called against the kicking team if a member violates the fair catcher's right to the ball. If the interference is deemed flagrant, the kicking team member can be ejected from the game. If the receiver attempts to advance the ball after signalling for a fair catch he is penalized five yards for "delay of game". A fair catch may be followed by a snap
Snap (football)
A snap starts each American football and Canadian football play from scrimmage.-Action:...

 or a type of free kick — the fair catch kick
Fair catch kick
The fair catch kick is a rarely used rule in some forms of American football that allows a team, after making a fair catch of an opponent's kick, to attempt a field goal freely from the spot of the catch. It is one of the three types of free kicks; the other two are the kickoff and the safety kick...

 — at his team's choice, and an expired playing period may be extended if the free kick is chosen. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (USA) abolished the fair catch from its version of American football in 1950, but restored it in 1951, minus the option of kicking from the mark of the catch, which is retained in rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations and of the National Football League.

The fair catch signal can be used as a legal form of deception in the following instance: If the receiver has no intention of actually fielding the ball, but wishes it to roll into the end zone
End zone
In gridiron-based codes of football, the end zone refers to the scoring area on the field. It is the area between the end line and goal line bounded by the sidelines. There are two end zones, each being on an opposite side of the field...

 for a touchback
Touchback
In American football, a touchback is a ruling which is made and signaled by an official when the ball becomes dead behind or above a goal line and the team who is attacking that goal line is responsible for the ball being there. Responsibility is determined by which team gave the ball the impetus...

, he may signal for a fair catch in front of where the ball will land, making the kicking team think it will not reach the end zone.

Other games


Various forms of football descended from certain English school football games of the 19th century have had a fair catch. It was abolished early in the development of soccer, then in the middle of the 20th century by Canadian football
Canadian football
Canadian football is a form of gridiron football played exclusively in Canada in which two teams of 12 players each compete for territorial control of a field of play long and wide attempting to advance a pointed prolate spheroid ball into the opposing team's scoring area...

, and slightly later by rugby league
Rugby league
Rugby league football, usually called rugby league, is a full contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular grass field. One of the two codes of rugby football, it originated in England in 1895 by a split from Rugby Football Union over paying players...

. Forms of football retaining a form of fair catch (also called "mark
Mark (rugby)
To mark a ball in rugby union, the player must be inside that player's twenty-two metre line. The mark is performed by a player , making a clean catch and shouting "Mark!". It is also common for the player to touch the ball on the ground to make his intentions clear to the referee and other...

") include American (outdoor), rugby union
Rugby union
Rugby union, often simply referred to as rugby, is a full contact team sport which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand...

, and Australian rules
Australian rules football
Australian rules football, officially known as Australian football, also called football, Aussie rules or footy is a sport played between two teams of 22 players on either...

. The American-invented intramural games speedball
Speedball (American)
Speedball is a code of football, which was devised by combining elements of American football and soccer.-History of Speed ball:Speedball was invented during the late 1970s at Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. The previously deficient gym program at Lewis and Clark was turned in a...

 and speed-a-way have some of the flavor of the original fair catch, which was to allow handling of the ball in games where handling was otherwise forbidden. Australian rules, speedball, and speed-a-way do not require that the kick be from an opponent. American football requires that the catcher signal in advance, as did Canadian football before that game abolished the fair catch. Rugby union requires a player to signal a fair catch by catching the ball and shouting "Mark!".

In some forms of football a player fielding an opponent's kick must be given a certain circular unobstructed space around him in which to do so by either some or all opponents. In rugby union, rugby league, and Canadian football this applies only against members of the kicking team who are offside, and applies whether the ball is in the air, bouncing, or rolling. In Arena Football, there is no fair catch; however all members of the kicking team must refrain from penetrating the five-yard line in coverage, but only while the ball is in the air.

The various games differ as to the conditions under which a fair catch will be awarded — for example, whether the ball must be caught "cleanly", i.e. without juggling. Rugby union requires a clean catch. American football allows the ball to be juggled, but not to be intentionally batted forward to improve the position of the catch (as for a free kick at goal). Australian rules is most generous, allowing unlimited hand play with the ball before it is caught, and allowing the kick to be from any other player, regardless of team (however, the ball must have travelled 15 metres) and the ball can even be dropped so long as the player was deemed to have sufficient control of its fall. In the 19th century in rugby and into the 20th in American and Canadian football, a fair catch was allowed from certain kicks of a teammate -- a punt-out or punt-on. Until very late in the 20th century in rugby union, a fair catch was allowed from an opponent's throw-forward (knock-on).

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