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Pass Interference In Football Explained

Pass interference can completely change the outcome of any football game. It’s a common penalty that is often in high school, college, and professional level football games. What is pass interference and why is it an important penalty?

Pass interference is when a defensive player prevents the offensive player from catching the football. The ruling states the defensive player may not contact the offensive player while the ball is in the air. If the defensive player does, it will be deemed pass interference.

In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know about pass interference.

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Defensive Pass Interference

Defensive pass interference calls can drastically change the momentum of any football game. The rule was created when the forward pass was allowed.

The pass interference rule was implemented to give the player trying to catch the football the right to catch it without a defender interfering.

There are several reasons why the referee may throw a flag for pass interference.

The most common type of pass interference is when two players are both trying to catch the football, but the defensive player is too aggressive. This will often result in the referee throwing the penalty flag.

The defensive player must allow the offensive player a chance to catch the football.

However, the defensive player has the same rights to the football as the offensive player. This means that if a defensive player is actively looking back to the football and is in a position to try to catch the ball, they may try to catch it or knock it away.

The penalty flag is often thrown when the defensive player makes no effort to put themselves into position to play the football in the air. Instead, they make too much contact with the wide receiver, which results in a penalty flag.

Here is a clip from one of the more controversial no pass interference calls in the last 25 years.

Penalty For Pass Interference

If the football official declares that the defensive player has made too much contact with the wide receiver, they will throw a flag instead of trying to catch the football.

The penalty flag differs based on the level of play. These are the different penalties for each football league.

  • High School: 15 Yard Penalty From The Line Of Scrimmage
  • College: 15 Yard Penalty From The Line Of Scrimmage & Automatic First Down
  • Professional: Automatic First Down & The Ball Is Placed Where The Penalty Was Committed

As you can see, the penalty for pass interference is far more severe at the professional level than at the high school and college levels.

signal for pass interference
Signal For Pass Interference

Pass interference at the high school level doesn’t always mean it’s a first down. By NFHS rules, if the offense has 3rd and 20, and pass interference occurs on the following play, the team will replay the down, which will be 3rd and 5.

In college, however, it’s less risky. The referee will throw a penalty flag for 15 yards, and the offense is automatically granted a first down.

Professional levels (like the NFL) have the most punishing pass interference rules. They mandate that when the penalty flag is thrown for pass interference, the ball is immediately placed where the pass interference occurred. The offense also gets an automatic first down.

This call has had many implications for teams who are trying to throw the ball deep down the field late into games.

The pass interference call is constantly argued by fans, players, and coaches.

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Offensive Pass Interference

While the defense is commonly called for pass interference, there is an offensive pass interference penalty as well.

Visit this link for a great visual of offensive pass interference.

When the ball is in the air, if the offensive player makes too much contact with the defensive player trying to intercept the ball, they may be called for offensive pass interference.

The result of offensive pass interference is the offense is penalized 15 yards.

For example, if the penalty occurred on a play that was 2nd and 10, following the penalty, it will be 2nd and 25. This is only if the penalty is accepted by the defense (high school and college).

This is a rare penalty, but it can happen. Pass interference calls are typically all up to the referee’s discretion. Some referees may not throw a flag, while others might. It all depends on what the referee deems as their version of pass interference.

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Next Steps

If you want to learn more about the rules of football, we recommend checking out this blog which has a full set of rules, complete with referee signals.

What are the worst pass interference calls that you’ve seen? Let us know in the comment section below.