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...
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...
Gridiron football , sometimes known as North American football, is an umbrella term for related codes of football primarily played in the United States and Canada. The predominant forms of gridiron football are American football and Canadian football...
, pass interference
) is a penalty that occurs when a player interferes with an eligible receiver's
In American football and Canadian football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass. Only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass which crosses the neutral zone is thrown...
ability to make a fair attempt to catch a forward pass
In several forms of football a forward pass is when the ball is thrown in the direction that the offensive team is trying to move, towards the defensive team's goal line...
. Pass interference may include tripping, pushing, pulling, or cutting in front of the receiver or pulling on the receiver's arms. It does not include catching or batting the ball before it reaches the receiver. Once the ball touches any defensive player or eligible offensive receiver the above rules no longer apply and the defender may tackle the receiver or attempt to prevent him from gaining control of the ball.
Once a forward pass is in the air it is a loose ball and thus any eligible receiver – all defensive players are eligible receivers – may try to catch it. When a defensive player catches a forward pass it is an interception and his team gains possession of the ball. Some actions that are defined as pass interference may be overlooked if the defender is attempting to catch or bat the ball rather than focusing on the receiver.
The intended receiver may find himself a defender if a defensive player has a better chance to catch a forward pass. If an offensive player commits pass interference against a defensive player attempting to intercept a forward pass it is offensive pass interference
Rules for pass interference differ between American and Canadian football:
- Pass interference rules in American high school and college football clearly cover only forward passes that travel beyond the neutral zone. Although ESPN.com
ESPN.com is the official website of ESPN and a division of ESPN Inc. Since launching in 1995 as ESPNet.SportsZone.com, the website has developed numerous sections including: Page 2, SportsNation, ESPN 3.com, ESPN Motion, My ESPN, ESPN Sports Travel, ESPN Video Games, ESPN Insider, ESPN.com's...
columnist Gregg Easterbrook
Gregg Edmund Easterbrook is an American writer, lecturer, and a senior editor of The New Republic. His articles have appeared in Slate, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Wired, and Beliefnet. In addition, he was a fellow at the...
stated in 2008 that National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...
(NFL) pass interference rules apply throughout the field of play, no matter where the intended receiver is located, the NFL itself says otherwise, stating on its official site that "there can be no pass interference at or behind the line of scrimmage". In Canadian football, pass interference rules are applied throughout the field of play. This leads to differences in the application of the rule on screen pass
A screen pass is a type of play in American football. During a screen pass, a number of things happen concurrently in order to fool the defense into thinking a long pass is being thrown, when in fact the pass is merely a short one, just beyond the defensive linemen. Screens are usually deployed...
es in which the intended receiver is behind the line of scrimmage:
- A defender who makes contact with an intended receiver behind the line of scrimmage cannot be called for pass interference at any level of American football, although he may still be guilty of a different foul. The NFL is specific about which foul could be called in that situation, stating that "defensive actions [behind the line of scrimmage] such as tackling a receiver can still result in a 5-yard penalty for defensive holding, if accepted." In the same situation in Canadian football, the defender can be called for pass interference if his contact is deemed illegal.
- Offensive pass interference cannot be called behind the line of scrimmage in American football. In Canadian football, although the pass interference rule applies, offensive players are explicitly allowed to interfere with a defender attempting to intercept a screen pass (within certain limitations).
- If the pass is deemed to be "uncatchable", pass interference rules do not apply in American college football or the NFL, and starting with the 2010 season they do not apply in Canada. This rule does not apply in American high school football.
In the NFL, the defender may make continuous contact with receiver within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage
In American and Canadian football a line of scrimmage is an imaginary transverse line beyond which a team cannot cross until the next play has begun...
. Anything after that is penalized as illegal contact. Pass interference is called if the defensive player contacts the offensive player while he is trying to catch the pass. Inadvertent contact, though, is not penalized.
In high school and college, the defender may make contact with the receiver as long as the receiver is in front of the defender. These provisions end when the pass is in the air.
In the NFL and the Canadian Football League
The Canadian Football League or CFL is a professional sports league located in Canada. The CFL is the highest level of competition in Canadian football, a form of gridiron football closely related to American football....
the penalty for defensive pass interference is an automatic first down at the spot of the foul. If the foul occurs in the end zone, the ball will be placed at the one-yard line. In U.S. college football and amateur Canadian football, the penalty is to the spot of the foul, up to a maximum of 15 yards from the previous spot, and an automatic first down. In U.S. high school rules the penalty is 15 yards from the previous spot and an automatic first down; offensive pass interference is fifteen yards from the previous spot and a loss of down.
In the NFL and CFL, the penalty for an offensive pass interference is 10 yards from the previous spot. In amateur Canadian football, the penalty is 15 yards.
In certain situations a defensive player may deliberately commit pass interference against an intended receiver who would surely make a huge gain or score a touchdown were he to catch the ball. This is especially true in NCAA and amateur Canadian football, where the penalty for pass interference that occurs more than 15 yards upfield is less severe than under professional rules. In U.S. high school, if the covering official deems the interference intentional, an additional 15 yards may be assessed.