Scenario: Line of scrimmage is at the defensive team's 12 yard line and the defensive team concedes a 15-yard pre-snap penalty.

Normally the offensive team would move up 15 yards, but what happens in this case? Is there a difference in NFL vs. AFL vs. CFL vs. NCAA?

3 Answers 3


It is specifically covered in the NFL rules for 2017 as rule 12, section 3, article 2

the defense shall not commit successive or repeated fouls to prevent a score.

Penalty: For successive or repeated fouls to prevent a score: If the violation is repeated after a warning, the score involved is awarded to the offensive team.

In the same section, article 4 refers to "Palpably Unfair Acts" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palpably_unfair_act.

A player or substitute shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.

Penalty: For a palpably unfair act: ...... The Referee ...... enforces any such distance penalty as they consider equitable ...... The Referee may award a score. See 15-1-3.

So, in my example above, once the defense have committed two fouls, moving the ball to 1.25 yd line, the referee would give them a warning : do that again and I'll give a TD under article 3.

While, if the offense has the ball 1st and Goal at the 1 yd line, and a linebacker took a shot at the QB before the snap, thinking that it's only an 18 inch penalty - that could be a TD (and ejection) under article 4.


According to wikipedia all yardage penalties are

capped at half the distance to the offending team's goal line.

Thus, the new line of scrimmage will be the defensive team's 6 yard line.

NFL: 2020 NFL rulebook section 2 article 1, "Special enforcement for penalties"

CFL: summary of penalties

NCAA: 2017 football rules

  • 1
    Note - "all yardage penalties" would not encompass a "spot foul" - like pass interference. Not that the answer is saying anything different, but I figured some might not be clear on the exact meaning of the term in this context. "Yardage penalty" can be thought of as an infraction where a specific yardage amount is specified as the punishment. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 16:30

There is an obscure rule in American Football that leads to an interesting special case of the "half distance to the goal line rule". In essence, this rule enables the referee to award a Touch Down if the defense consistently commit "half distance penalties". Otherwise, if Team A has the ball at Team B's 5 yd line, and team B keeps committing penalties, the ball would move to the 2.5 yd, then 1.25, then 0.62, then 0.31, 0.15 yd line etc. etc.

  • 1
    Could you clarify which rulebooks this applies to? NFL, CFL and NCAA?
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 13:18

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