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Football Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass Penalty

Football Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass Penalty

The penalty of an illegal touch of a forward pass only occurs on offense. Someone who catches the ball but is not allowed to will be flagged for an illegal touch of a forward pass. This penalty is most frequently called on wide receivers and offensive lineman.


In order for an illegal touch to occur, two things can happen. First, a wide receiver who runs out of bounds and gets back in bounds before catching the ball is deemed illegal. The wide receiver can catch the ball if he is out of bounds and stays out of bounds, which is an incomplete pass. But, if he comes back into the field of play and is the first to touch the ball a penalty will be called.

Secondly, an offensive lineman can be deemed ineligible on the field, making him not allowed to catch the ball. You will hear the referee indicate if any lineman on the field are eligible receivers before the play starts. If a lineman is not eligible and catches a pass from the QB, he will be flagged. On batted passes, linemen are allowed to catch the ball since the ball was contacted by the defense.

Also, the play does not stop when an illegal touch is made. If the play continues and the defense creates a turnover, they can simply decline the penalty and take possession of the ball.

Even if a receiver is pushed out of bounds by a defender, he cannot come back in bounds and contact the ball. This will still be grounds for an illegal touch of a forward pass. This rule is in place because once a player is out of bounds he is considered to be not within the field of play. This means they cannot be involved with the ball directly. On plays like punts, players on the kicking team can still make a tackle after going out of bounds, as long as they return in bounds as fast as possible.


The result of an illegal touch of a forward pass varies among different leagues. In the NFL, NCAA, High School, and AFL, they all utilize a 5 yard penalty. The NFL also gives a loss of down penalty if the receiver touches the ball after being out of bounds. In the CFL, the penalty for an illegal touch on a pass is 10 yards.

Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass5 Yards, Loss of Down5 Yards5 Yards10 Yards5 Yards

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal touching of a forward pass

The signal of an illegal touch on a forward pass is the same as other illegal touch penalties. The referee will point to both shoulders repeatedly in order to signal a touch. He will then point an outstretched arm to the offense for an illegal touch of a forward pass penalty.


  • A wide receiver goes out of bounds, comes back in and then touches the ball.
  • An offensive lineman is deemed ineligible and then catches a pass.
  • A defender pushes a wide receiver out of bounds and the receiver comes back in and catches the ball.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass