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What Is A Penalty In Football?

Table of Contents

Football Penalty

A penalty is called on any player or coach that breaks the rules of football as defined in the rulebook of the game. There are seven referees on the field, and all of them are able to call penalties. They can be called on both the offensive and defensive teams.

Depending on the type and its severity, penalties come with consequences like:

Football Penalties


A yellow flag is thrown onto the field by an official whenever a rule is broken. Each referee has several flags as a part of their uniform, making them always available during plays. They can also throw more than one flag if they see more than one penalty. The record for most flags thrown in one play is 5 penalty flags in a kickoff play between the 49ers and the Broncos in 2017 preseason.

Loss Of Yards

A penalty in football may result in a loss of yards for either team based which team got the penalty. Depending on the severity of the foul, there are:

  • 5-yard penalties
  • 10-yard penalties
  • 15-yard penalties

Automatic First Down

A penalty in football may result in an automatic first down for either team based which team got the penalty. Automatic first downs give a team a first down and new set of four downs.

Football 1st Down

Loss Of A Down

A penalty in football may result in an automatic loss of a down for the team with the ball. If a penalty is called on 3rd down, it will become 4th down. This can be very detrimental to teams if they are not close enough to the end zone to go for it on 4th down. Most often, this penalty that causes a 4th down will lead to a turnover.

Replaying The Previous Down

A penalty may result in a replay of the previous down. If a penalty happens on 3rd down, that same down would be replayed. This is an ideal penalty for the offensive team so that they can continue where they started from.


A penalty in football may result in a combination of consequences such as a loss of yards and an automatic first down. These come from more severe penalties.

Spot Of The Foul

On serious penalties in football, a team may get possession of the ball at the spot of the foul on the field. Fouls such as pass interference, face mask fouls, and illegal handling will result in this penalty.


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