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 occurs only rarely, it 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 been forced into overtime when they otherwise may have ended, while others have 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 the 15-yard, automatic first down penalty.
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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.