Football Leverage Penalty

Football Leverage Penalty

A leverage penalty (also called a leaping penalty in the NCAA) in football is a penalty against the defense that occurs when a player jumps, or stands on another player in an attempt to block a field goal or punt. Though it rarely occurs, a leverage penalty can have a big impact on a game’s final outcome.


A leverage penalty in football is called whenever a player jumps or stands on another player, either a teammate or an opponent, in an effort to block a kick. It is a penalty that has been put into place mainly to protect players from the injuries that can occur in greater frequency during field goals and punts whenever somebody leaps onto another player.

Though infrequent, leverage penalties can have big impacts on the outcome of a game. Some games have even been forced into overtime by leverage penalties when they otherwise may have ended. Others have likewise turned from nail-biting defensive match-ups into lopsided thrashings as a result of a single leverage call.


Both the NFL and NCAA have some form of a leverage penalty. In addition, high school football associations have adopted the same penalty in efforts to cut down on injury risk and acclimate players to collegiate-level rules enforcement.

In all three levels of play, a leverage penalty results in 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, as well as an automatic first down. The automatic first down is perhaps the most damaging part of the penalty, as it nullifies the defense’s efforts on the entire last set of downs.

In extreme cases, when the offending player flagrantly puts themselves or other players at serious risk of injury, the offending player may be disqualified from the game in addition to a 15-yard, automatic first down penalty.

PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Leverage15 Yards, Automatic 1st down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st DownN/A

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal unsportsmanlike conduct

Leverage penalties are part of the “unsportsmanlike conduct” category, so a referee will hold their arms outstretched, palms face-down, when signaling a leverage penalty. The referee will also throw their flag, blow a whistle, and inform the players on the field (and the fans) of the rules infraction after the play.


  • Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos, 2017: DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas) was flagged for leverage on a 50-yard field goal. The penalty started a scoring nightmare for the Dallas defense, and the Broncos ended up winning by 25 points.
  • Penn State vs. Ohio State, 2016: Marcus Allen (PSU) lept off a teammate and successfully blocked a field goal attempt to secure the win. Because Allen did not land on another player after his leap, the play was legal in 2016 when it occurred, though such a leap would be flagged down in the NCAA today.
  • Michigan State vs. University of Indiana, 2016: Drake Martinez (Mich. State) bounded over Indiana’s line in an attempt to block a 33-yard field goal. He failed to block the field goal (which went wide of the uprights anyway), but the penalty gave Indiana another try at a field goal. Indiana made the now 17-yard field goal to force overtime, and Indiana eventually won the game.


What is the leverage penalty in football?

In football, a leverage penalty occurs when a defensive player leaps off or stands on another player in order to block a kick. This penalty occurs whether the player who is lept over or stood on is a member of the offending player’s team or is on the opposing team. The penalty for such a foul is an automatic first down and a loss of 15 yards for the offending team.

What is unsportsmanlike conduct in football?

Unsportsmanlike conduct in football is a penalty in football that is assessed when a player violates basic sportsmanship rules. This includes actions such as threatening or abusive language towards an opponent or official, striking another player, or making gestures that are offensive. The penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct is a 15 yard loss for the offending team.