Darnell Anderson (left) and Jerry Trautman, both of Bellflower, Calif., discuss a penalty enforcement. Placing fouls into categories such as live ball or dead ball is an important step in proper enforcement. (Photo Credit: Heston Quan)


here are several elements to correctly enforcing a penalty. The first is to accurately identify a foul. If there is no foul, there cannot be a penalty. Properly recognizing a foul falls under the art of officiating. The next step is to identify each component of the penalty. It is not simply the distance: five, 10 or 15 yards. A penalty may include a loss of down, an automatic first down, disqualification, ejection, subtraction from the game clock, loss of a timeout, requiring a player to sit out a down or a combination of the preceding. The penalty statement might also dictate the lateral placement of the ball for the next snap.

Sometimes what is forgotten is the classification of the foul. That is the parameter that primarily drives the enforcement. Since 1992, NFL officials have learned penalty enforcement through the Hopper Book, originated by Ed Hochuli. The book teaches the official to first determine in which “hopper” the penalty belongs and then to apply the principles of that hopper. The NFL version spawned the Penalty Enforcements Made Easy books currently published by Referee. What follows is an abbreviated version of the hoppers for NFHS and NCAA rules.

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Live-ball fouls.

The vast majority of live-ball fouls are enforced under the all-but-one principle. That principle requires penalties be administered from the basic spot unless the foul is by the offense behind the basic spot. In that case, the penalty is administered from the spot of the foul. The principle is always used when there is no longer a neutral zone such as during a kick, interception or fumble return.

Most live-ball fouls are enforced under that principle, including holding and illegal blocks. In NCAA, the principle, alternatively called “three-and-one,” is used for noncontact fouls such as illegal batting and illegal kicking.

There are several fouls in the “simultaneous with the snap” hopper and those are enforced from the previous spot. Those are acts that take place while the ball is dead but do not become a foul until the ball is snapped. The rationale is the questionable act can be corrected before the snap and in some cases there is no “spot of the foul” to enforce from; an example is an illegal formation. Most of those fouls can only be committed by the offense, but there are a few the defense or the kicking team can commit. The following acts, if not corrected, become fouls when the ball is snapped: illegal formation, numbering at snap, illegal motion, illegal shift, offside (NCAA only) and free kick infractions (NFHS). Certain types of substitution infractions can also occur simultaneous with the snap.

In NCAA, there are also some fouls that do not occur simultaneous with the snap, but for which the penalty specifies previous spot enforcement. Those include illegal touching and any foul involving illegal contact with an opponent such as holding.

Live-ball fouls enforced as dead-ball fouls.

Treating a foul as a dead-ball foul essentially means the penalty is enforced from the succeeding spot (usually the dead-ball spot) with no impact on the previous play or the number of the next down. Although the term live-ball fouls enforced as dead-ball fouls does not appear in NFHS rules, nonplayer fouls and all unsportsmanlike conduct fouls are in that category. Under NCAA rules, unsporting acts by players while the ball is live are treated as live-ball fouls while those acts by nonplayers are treated as dead-ball fouls. Sideline interference by a coach is a good example of the latter.

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The so-called “carryover” fouls also fall into this hopper. In NFHS, any foul committed by the opponents of the scoring team on a touchdown can be carried over to the try or succeeding kickoff, or if on a successful field goal to the succeeding spot. On a touchdown play, the foul must occur after any change of possession. Under NCAA rules, such a foul on a touchdown can carry over to the succeeding spot if it is a personal or unsportsmanlike foul; it does not matter if it occurs before a change of possession. A similar rule in both codes allows a carryover to the succeeding spot on a successful field goal. On a successful try, the fouls described above can carry over to the succeeding spot.

Additionally, fouls by the kicking team on certain kick plays can be enforced from the succeeding spot.

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Dead-ball fouls.

In addition to live-ball fouls treated as dead-ball fouls, there are two categories of dead-ball fouls: Acts that occur in the interval after the ball is ready for play and before the snap and those that take place in the continuing action after the ball becomes dead.

In the first category, false starts, snap infractions and delay of game will keep the ball dead, even if the snap is made before a whistle can be blown. Also in NFHS, encroachment and free kick infractions will prevent the play from starting. In either code, certain types of substitution infractions fall into this hopper.

During the continuing action after the play, almost all fouls that occur will carry a 15-yard penalty, except for a delay foul. In NCAA, personal fouls that are non-football related acts are also tagged as unsportsmanlike conduct and count toward ejection.

The specialty hopper.

Finally, there are fouls that have unique enforcements and don’t fit anywhere above. A few examples are a free kick out of bounds, kick-catching interference, roughing the passer and unfair acts.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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