The palpably unfair act penalty in football is called when a team or player commits an illegal act that is not covered in the rulebook, but may prevent the opposing team from scoring. In this very uncommon case, it is up to the game officials to determine if an action is against the rules along with the accompanying punishment.
A palpably unfair act penalty in football is very rare and can be quite complicated. When a team or player prevents the opposing team from scoring in an unfair manner that is not specifically prohibited in the rulebook, the officials may determine if that team is penalized and the severity of the penalty. Officials may add time back to the game clock, award the opposing team with free yardage, award the opposing team with points, eject players from the game, or even force a team to forfeit the game.
This act can be confusing for coaches, fans, and referees because there is no specified way to handle related instances. According to the rulebook, an action is legal unless there is a particular rule that forbids the action. Therefore, officials will generally turn to the palpably unfair act only when a specified penalty for a violation is not severe enough to punish a given action.
The palpably unfair act penalty has never been called in an NFL game but was called in the 1954 Cotton Bowl when Rice University's running back Dicky Moegle was tackled by Alabama running back Tommy Lewis, who came off the bench on the sideline to make the tackle. Moegle had the potential to score a touchdown on the play, and since Lewis was not a defensive player on the field, the officials decided to award Rice with a touchdown.
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Since the palpably unfair act is determined by the officiating crew and can apply to many different situations, the penalty at each level of play is not predetermined.
There is no set penalty signal for the palpably unfair act. If a team is awarded a touchdown as a result of the penalty, the referee will hold both of their arms upright above their head.