In order to understand a double foul is, it is first imperative to know what a foul is. A foul is the result of either team breaking any rule in the game and results in a penalty. Fouls are called by officials, who do so by throwing a yellow flag on the field when one occurs. The NFL rulebook includes an extensive list of every foul that a player can commit, from illegal blocks to taunting.
A double foul occurs when each team commits a foul on the same down. Double fouls are dealt with in different ways depending on when they occurred. This is especially true in regard to whether or not there was a change of possession on the play. Though double fouls may often offset, there are many exceptions.
If there is no change of possession on the play, then the fouls will offset and the down must be replayed. In other words the down and line to gain will not change on the next play. There are some exceptions to this rule. Depending on the situation, only a 15-yard penalty may be enforced against only one team, a team may accept a delay of game penalty, and penalties might offset while the ball is placed at the succeeding spot. More in depth analysis of these rules follow.
These exceptions include one team receiving a 15-yard penalty while the other receives one for five yards. As long as the five-yard penalty does not include an automatic first down, a 10-second runoff, or is a spot foul, only the 15-yard penalty is enforced. Additionally, if one foul is a dead ball delay of game foul for spiking the ball and the other is a live ball foul, the team committing the dead ball foul can decide to not penalize the opponent while still taking the delay of game penalty. Finally, if both teams commit dead ball fouls, then the penalties offset and the ball will be placed at the spot where the next play is to begin. If the neutral zone has been outlined for the next down and the ball is made ready for play, however, the rule refers back to the 15-yard vs. five-yard penalty rule.
A double foul during a scrimmage kick, which results in a change of possession, the team that last had possession at the end of the play will hold onto possession of the ball after the penalty is assessed. However, the penalties will offset and the down will be replayed if the team last in possession had picked up a foul before it gained possession. Some other situations will result in offsetting penalties and the down being replayed. Still more scenarios may result in the ball being placed at different positions on the field depending on how penalties are assessed. More detail is below.
Exceptions to this rule include the kicking team fouling during a kick, in which case the receiving team has the option to have the down replayed. Also, if a safety takes place because of the receiving team's foul, the down is replayed and takes place at the spot where the previous play began. Lastly, the penalties offset if a double foul takes place after possession has changed. In this case, the team that last had possession of the ball receives the ball where it would if the penalty were to be assessed against it. Additional rules place the ball at varying places on the field for spots that would normally be a touchback or safety in different situations.
Among other scenarios, another down without a time limit can be played if a double foul takes place at the end of either half, though there are exceptions to this rule.