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Football Pass Interference Penalty

football pass interference penalty

Pass interference is a penalty that occurs in football when an offensive or defensive player restricts the opponent from catching the ball. The penalty is highly disputed as it is a judgment call and can only be made by a referee. The play cannot be reviewed and the referee's ruling is the deciding factor in a pass interference penalty being enforced.


A pass interference penalty occurs when a player directly impedes an opposing player's ability to catch the ball. It is a common penalty in various football leagues and results in the ball moving down the field if the penalty is against the defensive team. If the offense commits a pass interference penalty, the ball is usually moved back and the offense has to replay the down.

Pass interference may only be called if the player who is interfered with has a chance to make the play. If the ball is overthrown or underthrown and the player has no chance of making a reception, the penalty is not called. There are many other similar penalties to pass interference such as defensive holding and illegal use of hands. Both of these penalties also relate to stopping an opposing player from getting a fair chance to make a play on the ball.


A pass interference penalty has different results depending on the type of league the game is being played in. For example, college football (NCAA) has a 15 yard penalty against the defense and a 10 yard penalty against the offense. However, in the National Football League (NFL) the penalty moves the ball to the spot of the fall if it is against the defense and is a fifteen yard penalty against the offense. In the NFL, if the defense commits a pass interference penalty inside of the endzone the ball is automatically placed at the one yard line, and the offense gets a fresh set of downs.

PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Pass Interference(Offense)10 Yards10 Yards15 yards, loss of a down10 yard loss from the point of the last scrimmage. The penalty can be challenged in the Canadian Football League.
Pass Interference (Defense)Spot of the foul, at the one yard line if in the endzone.15 yards15 yards, automatic first down10 yard loss from the point of the last scrimmage. The penalty can be challenged in the Canadian Football League.

Penalty Signal

football Penalty Signal

When a pass interference penalty is called, the referee puts both of their arms out at shoulder width. This signal is the same in the NCAA and the NFL.


  • Defensive players push an offensive player away from the ball while it is traveling in the air.
  • Offensive players push off of a defensive player to create separation and make the catch.
  • A defensive player trips an offensive player as they try to make a play on the ball. By tripping them, the offensive player is unable to catch the ball.

Similar Penalties To Pass Interference