I created a list of words and expressions commonly used by fans, coaches, announcers and sometimes by officials. However, nothing in my list appears in an NFHS or NCAA rulebook. My favorite non-football term is “lateral.” The correct term for what they’re describing is “backward pass.”
For NFHS, a backward pass is one thrown with its initial direction parallel with or toward the runner’s end line (2-31-5). In NCAA, a pass is ruled backward when the ball first strikes the ground, any player or an official behind the spot where the ball is released (2-19-2a).
When in question, it is a forward pass rather than a backward pass if thrown in or behind the neutral zone. In the PlayPic on the next page, if the receiver were to mishandle the pass, it should be ruled incomplete.
A backward pass (released overhanded or underhanded) can be thrown by any player possessing the ball anywhere on the field. Unlike a forward pass, it does not matter if an offensive player throwing a backward pass is behind, in or beyond the neutral zone.
Such a pass is possible after a change of possession, such as during a return of any kick or an advance after an interception or fumble recovery.
A snap is also considered a backward pass by rule (NFHS 2-40-1; NCAA 2-23-1).
The ball remains live if a backward pass initially hits the ground or is muffed and then lands inbounds. Officials should not blow their whistle when a backward pass is not caught. Either team can recover the loose ball and advance.
Play 1: At team A’s 40 yardline, A1 throws a pass into a strong wind. The initial direction of the pass is forward, but the wind blows the ball back to team A’s 35 yardline, where it hits the ground. Ruling 1: An incomplete forward pass in NFHS as the original direction was forward. A backward pass in NCAA as the pass first struck the ground behind the spot where the pass is released. Anyone can recover the loose ball and advance.
Play 2: A1 takes the snap and moves parallel to the line of scrimmage. At team B’s 10 yardline, he throws a backward pass to A2, the right tackle, who was trailing the play. A2 catches the ball at team B’s 15 yardline and runs across the goalline. Ruling 2: Six points
for team A.
In general, it can be said that fouls applicable to legal forward passes do not apply to backward pass plays. If a backward pass was the only pass thrown during the down, there cannot be a foul for pass interference, illegal touching, ineligible receiver downfield or roughing the passer.
An in-flight backward pass can be batted backward by either team but may not be batted forward by the passing team (NFHS 9-7-3; NCAA 9-4-2). That is a 10-yard penalty enforced from the basic spot.
In NCAA, a backward pass cannot be intentionally thrown out of bounds to conserve time (7-2-1). That foul typically occurs near the end of either half when a team is trying to stop the clock. The penalty is five yards from the spot of the foul and loss of down.
Judson Howard, Los Angeles, is a replay official in the Pac-12 Conference. He officiated more than 20 years, many at the NCAA Division I level.
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