If there are multiple fouls on the play against the same team, it's common to hear that all fouls are declined except for the one that results in the largest gain. Why can't the offended team accept all the fouls?

If there are 3 fouls on the play, 2 against 1 that all count for the same yardage, logic would dictate that the first 2 penalties would offset and the 3rd would be enforced, but in actuality only the first 2 offset and the 3rd is ignored. Why?

  • I BELIEVE there may be at least some circumstances/leagues where deadball fouls (e.g. unsportsmanlike conduct) can aggregate with liveball fouls. But to the bigger question, I guess the thinking may be that after fouls have been committed by both sides, the play has been so corrupted that further fouls aren't meaningful. Doing so also might slide into blurry ground of what constitutes separate fouls (if the hand leaves the jersey for a moment, is it that a second hold?) Nov 29, 2016 at 7:32
  • Perhaps a better question is why unequal foul types cancel, but it's the way it is, I don't see any clear logic why it must be differently. Nov 29, 2016 at 7:32

1 Answer 1


For the most part the rules are logical. If there is a hold on the defense (5 yards) and a holding call on the offense, you cannot penalize the offense because their hold might have been dictated by the defensive hold. You can go through almost any example and the logic I have will hold up.

Also I understand where you are coming from if one team commits multiple fouls. But double/triple/quadruple dipping on penalties would quite frankly make the game more about the refs and how they are calling fouls. Imagine a QB like Rodgers facing a blitz. The o-line knows it f'ed up. So three lineman tackle the two A-gap blitzers so Rodgers doesn't get killed. 30 yards?

Really the answer to your question is - those are the rules. And I am sure someone can add the NFL rules, the NCAA rules, and so on but they are all slightly different on offsetting and what can be stacked.

The reason the NFL has implemented the rules the way they did is certainly to help offenses and to allow people to see offenses perform (stacking against the defense would provide some really short scoring drives). Think about it like this -

  • offense has the ball on the 20
  • defense commits 3 penalties on play for 30 yards. 1st and 10 on the 50.
  • offense commits 3 penalties on play for 30 yards. 1st and 40 from the 20.

You see quickly that one multi-penalty play decommissions the offense 90% of the time while if the defense does this it is just field position. (So naturally the defense would go man press a lot and bring the house looking for holding calls, offsides, whatever - the game would be a mess)

From a referees point of view, we don't try to make every call. Every game we call is different, meaning we try to treat each team the same but a hold one week might not be a hold the next. Also during the game we try to create the right outcome for a play. If I see the TE hold on a sweep, we call that. We are trying to figure out what yard marker he was at, at the hold and what happened with the rest of the play. I cannot check to see if the other 5 lineman are holding someone.

The only stacking allowed at most levels involves personal fouls. Those are usually things that would not make the other team commit a penalty and have to be stacked or the game could get into a battle royal.

Conclusion: You have a point. There isn't a need to start stacking penalties as a general rule but there should be a provision. Look at what the Ravens did last week on the last play of the game. Every player on offense tackled the defensive player around them until the kicker ran out the clock (for a safety). It was nonsense. In many leagues refs would use provisions around unsportsmanlike conduct to penalize the team, but the NFL does not like referees to make these types of decisions without something seriously major happening.

I see this play as a good thing. The NFL will certainly look at adding a provision or rule change. I certainly can see the NFL doing the following:

  • allowing a provision that allows the refs to add a personal foul to a play if there were two or more penalties and at least one was intentional.
  • allowing a provision with less than 2 mins in each half that the defensive team can ask for the clock to be reset on any play that includes a penalty

** And this has nothing to do with multiple fouls on one play but how about multiple fouls on a drive? You know that if the Ravens have the ball at the 50 with 7 mins to play, they can keep running run plays up the middle, but always line up with illegal formation (6 guys on the line). Play runs, defense takes the 5 yards, clock keeps ticking, next play runs, defense takes the yards, clock keeps ticking... and so on. This mess doesn't stop until the 2 min mark. Someone will do this soon.


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