Football Intentional Grounding Penalty

football intentional grounding penalty

An intentional grounding penalty in football involves a mistake made by the quarterback, who is throwing the ball. This type of penalty usually occurs when the quarterback is trying to avoid being tackled by opposing players. Most importantly, this penalty helps deter quarterbacks from making unrealistic throws to avoid losing yardage from getting sacked


Intentional grounding occurs when a quarterback trying to escape defensive pressure throws an incomplete pass toward an area of the field where no receiver is present. It can also occur when a quarterback throws an incomplete pass that never crosses the line of scrimmage.

For the penalty to occur, the quarterback must be inside the tackle box and behind the line of scrimmage. The tackle box is an area in between the two outside offensive linemen on the line of scrimmage. Intentional ground is most often called when a quarterback is trying to avoid the repercussions of being sacked behind the line of scrimmage. 

Trying to throw the football away to avoid losing yardage can be seen as unfair for the opposing team. The only exception to this penalty is when a quarterback spikes the football right in front of them to stop the game clock. Intentional grounding penalties are fairly uncommon with an average of 1.16 times called on teams per season.


PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Intentional GroundingLoss of Down, 10 yards from the previous spotLoss of Down at the spot of the foul 5 Yards, Loss of DownN/A

When an intentional grounding penalty is called, a few different results can occur based on the different leagues or level of play. It is most common for a team to lose a down and/or lose yards from the spot of the foul.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal intentional grounding

When this penalty is called, a referee immediately initiates a whistle and goes to the middle of the field. They announce that the penalty is intentional grounding on the quarterback while beginning the penalty signal. The referee motions the penalty by holding their hands parallel to each other near their right shoulder and then moving their hands diagonally up and down across their body. During the motion, the referee keeps their hands parallel to each other the whole time.


  • A quarterback throws a pass from inside the tackle box that doesn’t cross the line of scrimmage.  
  • A quarterback stays in the tackle box and throws a deep incomplete pass where no receivers are located.
  • A quarterback leaves the tackle box and intentionally throws an incomplete pass short of the line of scrimmage.


What is an intentional grounding penalty in football?

In football, intentional grounding penalties occur when a quarterback intentionally throws away the ball to avoid losing yards when getting sacked. The quarterback must be behind the line of scrimmage and within the tackle box for this penalty to be called, unless the ball doesn't cross the line of scrimmage. Even though it may be tempting to limit the effects of a quarterback sack, intentional grounding typically results in the loss of a down and potentially a loss of yardage.

What is the penalty for intentional grounding in football?

In football, the penalty for intentional grounding varies from league to league but usually includes the loss of the down. In the NFL, the result is loss of the down and 10 yards lost from the previous spot. In the NCAA, it is the loss of the down from the spot of the foul. In NFHS (high school), the result is loss of the down and 5 yards. In the CFL, there is no such rule nor resulting penalty.

Can you challenge an intentional grounding penalty?

Intentional grounding is considered to be a non-reviewable ruling, meaning that coaches are not able to challenge them. Intentional grounding is a judgment call made by the officials. However, if the intentional grounding happens in the end zone and results in a safety, the play will automatically be reviewed since it is a scoring play.