Penalty (American football)

Because football is a high-contact sport requiring a balance between offense and defense, many rules exist that regulate equality, safety, contact, and actions of players on each team. It is very difficult to always avoid violating these rules without giving up too much of an advantage. Thus, an elaborate system of fouls and penalties has been developed to "let the punishment fit the crime" and maintain a balance between following the rules and keeping a good flow of the game. Players are constantly looking for ways to find an advantage that stretches the limitations imposed by the rules. Also, the frequency and severity of fouls can make a large difference in the outcome of a game, so coaches are constantly looking for ways to minimize the number and severity of infractions committed by their players. It is a common misconception that the term "penalty" is used to refer both to an infraction and the penal consequence of that infraction. A foul is a rule infraction for which a penalty is prescribed.[6] Some of the more common fouls are listed below. In most cases when a foul occurs, the offending team will be assessed a penalty of 5, 10 or 15 yards, depending on the foul. Also, in most cases, if the foul is committed while the ball is in play, the down will be replayed from the new position (for example, if the offense commits a foul on a first-down play, the next play will still be first down, but the offense may have to go 15 yards, or farther, to achieve another first down.) But if a defensive foul results in the ball advancing beyond the offense's first-down objective, the next play will be the first down of a new series. Some penalties (typically for more serious fouls), however, require a los of down for the offense; and some defensive fouls may result in an automatic first down regardless of the ball position. In all cases (except for ejection of a player or, in rare cases, forfeiture of the game), the non-offending team is given the option of declining the penalty and letting the result of the play stand (although the Referee may exercise this option on their behalf when it is obvious), if they believe it to be more to their advantage. For some fouls by the defense, the penalty is applied in addition to the yardage gained on the play. Most personal fouls, which involve danger to another player, carry 15-yard penalties; in rare cases, they result in offending players being ejected from the game. In the NFL, if a defensive foul occurs after time has expired at the end of a half, the half will be continued for a single, untimed play from scrimmage. Under college rules, any accepted penalty when time has expired at the end of any quarter results in an extension for one untimed down. In the NFL, with three exceptions, no penalty may move the ball more than half the distance toward the penalized team's goal line. These exceptions are defensive pass interference (see the discussion of that foul for more details), intentional grounding, and offensive holding but in this last case the exception pertains only if the infraction occurs within the offensive team's own end zone, in which case an automatic safety is assessed (intentional grounding from the end zone also carries an automatic safety). Under college rules, the same half-the-distance principle applies, but any offensive fouls involving contact in their end zone (e.g. holding, illegal blocking or personal fouls) result in a safety.