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Contact! Pass Interference in Football

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Fourth down and 14 yards to go, last play before the half and the team with the ball needs a score before intermission.  The quarterback drops back and throws a long pass.  My job as a referee is to watch the passer and make sure no late hits draw a “roughing the passer” foul.  The pass is away and the QB is unscathed.  The crowd roars and I see the line judge give an “incomplete pass” signal.  Then the back judge gives several short blasts on his whistle—he has a foul.

Players from both teams are jumping up and down anticipating a call in their favor as I run down the field to meet the official.  He reports his foul without pointing, and I turn to face the press box with a signal that will leave one team happy and the other incensed.

Two test questions seem to turn up every year on our rules exam.  See how you do.

1)  Any contact (once the pass is in the air) between a defender and a pass receiver is pass interference.
2)  In order to have pass interference, there must be contact.

Here’s the relevant rule in high school:
It is forward-pass interference if:
    A.  Any player of either team who is beyond the neutral zone interferes with an eligible opponent’s opportunity to move toward, catch or bat the pass.
    B.  Any player hinders a opponent’s vision without making an attempt to catch, intercept or bat the ball, even though no contact was made.

The correct answer to both questions is false. 

An important distinction between college and high school rules is that in high school, we have no “un-catchable pass” rule. Also, pass interference restrictions for the offense begin at the snap.  In high school, the receiver could actually commit a foul before the pass is thrown!  These all add up to confusion and disappointment with the fans.  It’s not unusual to see lots of contact involving several players that ends in a “no-call” result.

Here’s a good example of a good “no-call” that looks like interference from the sideline opposite the camera.

The officials working the sidelines, head linesman and line judge, are often the calling officials along with the back judge in pass interference situations.  I worked back judge for several years before moving to referee, and the old adage is true about that position. It’s 95% boredom and 5% shear terror!  How often have you seen the team that’s losing throw up a desperation pass hoping for a miracle or a penalty?  The result often isn’t cut-and-dried, nor as black-and-white as the zebra’s stripes—it’s a judgment call and it usually rests upon the decision of the back judge.

Here’s an example of an obvious foul.  Offensive pass interference carries one of the stiffest penalties in football—15 yards from the previous spot and loss of down.

Next time you think you’ve seen pass interference, remember, it’s a judgment call and the back judge should have the best look. Enjoy the game, and see the ball.

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About FCEtier

  • cole

    the high school video does not look at all like pass interference he just dives infront of him

  • Yes, horse collar tackles are illegal in high school. However, pulling a player down from the back by the jersey is NOT a foul.

  • Doug Hunter

    Interesting, I’ve sorta wanted to be a football official for awhile but I enjoy watching the sport too much. (I did know the answer to your questions) I keep up with a couple of the local high schools as well as college and pro, so I’d have to miss spectating in favor of officiating unless I was doing JV/Jr. High games.

    One question I have is this. The rules at the different level vary as you have indicated. Is a horse collar tackle a penalty yet at the high school level? (I saw it get flagged then waved off last Friday) and if so are there any special restrictions. I’ve heard different things from different people, some saying it wasn’t a rule, others limiting it to certain areas of the field.