In college football, specifically the NCAA there are many punters that use a "Rugby Style" kick to punt the ball. Often the punter will run to the side of his kicking foot and then punt the ball. This takes a little bit of time, and usually between one and all seven players that are on the line of scrimmage will run down field before the ball is kicked.

My question is:

Isn't this a penalty? Only eligible receivers are allowed more than 5 yards down the field according to the rule in the NFL. Is this not a rule in the NCAA?

I know you cannot be a lineman and be down the field on a pass play, as in the NFL and NCAA it is a penalty.

I know that if the punter uses a Rugby Style punt, then the roughing the punter rules do not apply because he is not protected by the normal roughing the punter/kicker rules. Maybe this applies to the ineligible man down field penalty too, but I cannot find anything on it.


A video of some punts where players are down field at the time of the punt

NFL Ineligible Downfield Kick

Rugby Punters and Roughing the Punter

  • Also along the same lines... If there isn't a rule against ineligible man down field, couldn't you just use a kick/punt formation to run a screen with blockers down field??
    – diggers3
    Nov 17, 2014 at 21:58
  • A Grantland article today about Hawaii's punter mentions that his rugby-style skills will be less valuable in the NFL since only the gunners can release before the kick. Nov 20, 2014 at 0:00
  • @diggers3 Not if there is a forward pass - the forward pass instantly makes blocking downfield illegal. The formation itself is unimportant.
    – Joe
    Nov 20, 2014 at 16:35

3 Answers 3


In the NCAA rules, the only description of the Ineligible Receiver Downfield penalty is below. It can only be called on a forward pass that crosses the line of scrimmage. Since a punt isn't a forward pass, the linemen are able to release as soon as the ball is snapped.

Ineligible Receiver Downfield


No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone has been thrown (A.R. 7-3-10-I and II). PENALTY—Five yards from the previous spot [S37].

In the NFL rules, there is a specific provision regarding players on the line during scrimmage kicks:


Article 2 During a kick from scrimmage, only the end men (eligible receivers) on the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap, or an eligible receiver who is aligned or in motion behind the line and is more than one yard outside the end man, are permitted to advance more than one yard beyond the line before the ball is kicked.

Penalty: For advancing more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage before the ball is kicked: Loss of five yards.

Original answer:

Although I don't see it clearly described in the NCAA rulebook, lineman are allowed to release downfield immediately after the snap on a punt where in the NFL they must wait until the kick. The change in rules is indicated by the offense using a Scrimmage Kick Formation, which is defined in the NCAA rulebook:

Scrimmage Kick Formation


a. A scrimmage kick formation is a formation with at least one player seven yards or more behind the neutral zone, no player in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap from between the snapper’s legs, and it is obvious that a kick may be attempted (A.R. 9-1-14-I-III).

b. If Team A is in a scrimmage kick formation at the snap, any action by Team A during the down is deemed to be from a scrimmage kick formation.

  • I understand there is a definition for a scrimmage kick, but no where in there does it say that because it is a scrimmage kick, then the ineligible mane down field doesn't apply.
    – diggers3
    Nov 17, 2014 at 21:55

Only eligible receivers are allowed more than 5 yards down the field according to the rule in the NFL. Is this not a rule in the NCAA?

This is not a rule in the NCAA, today.

A relevant rule change in 1967 encouraged the kicking game and promoted punt returns.

The article's summary of the rule stated:

The new rule requires interior linemen of the kicking team to remain behind the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. This will give the player receiving the ball an additional few seconds to run it back.

NOTE: The NFL would adopt this rule in 1974(1).

The article also stated:

Through this year most teams have been using a nine man line when punting. They have placed their kicker 15 yards behind the line, and delayed the kick until the linemen are downfield within covering distance of the receiver. Punt returns are nearly impossible in this situation.

This rule was repealed in 1968(1) as coaches expressed safety concerns and favor over the old rule(2).

As an aside:

College teams favor the shield punt (the formation used in your first reference) for coverage(3), over the traditional spread punt that is common in the NFL due to the downfield rule already mentioned.

A blog entry, by a former NCAA-D3 college coach, about spread punt protection states the following:

...many college teams have transitioned to a Shield Punt – as there are no limits as to who can be downfield before the ball is kicked).


There is no such thing as an ineligible receiver on a punt formation in both the NCAA and NFHS. The NFL adopted the rule to limit injuries on punts. This might be hard to find since they usually don't write comments for things that don't exist.

  • 1
    Glad the downvote without a comment. Been a referee for 20 years.
    – Coach-D
    Nov 20, 2014 at 15:37
  • 3
    I didn't downvote, but I suspect it is because you don't cite any references. Both of the other answers did find detailed references for their answers. If you are a referee, I would suggest including that in your answer, and providing a little more detail - that would make it a better answer.
    – Joe
    Nov 20, 2014 at 16:39
  • 1
    And as I said, both of the other answers managed to effectively cite such that it is pretty clear. jerepierre in particular did a good job of showing the contrast between the NFL rulebook which has this rule, and the equivalent rule in the NCAA rulebook (which omits mention of that particular issue of course). Your answer doesn't really add anything to that answer - it says the same thing without giving any new evidence. Like I said, if you mention your experience as an official, that might be helpful, though it might ultimately be better as a comment supporting jerepierre's.
    – Joe
    Nov 21, 2014 at 0:37
  • 1
    @Joe - jerepierre's answer is confusing at best. There are separate sections of rules pertaining to punt formations. For the NCAA he cites a rule pertaining to offense. This has nothing to do with the other - at all. I can list a bunch of stuff from the rule book that kind of pertains to men downfield yet nothing to do with this case too but it isn't an answer. My answer is in fact the only one that points out that it isn't an infraction because it is not in the book. That is the answer.
    – Coach-D
    Nov 21, 2014 at 6:50
  • 2
    If you want people to explain downvotes, I suggest not arguing with them afterwards. I gave you an answer that was well-agreed with; a better response would've been "Okay, thanks for explaining". You're free to take the reason to heart or not, and to agree with it or not - but arguing with the reason just discourages people from explaining downvotes.
    – Joe
    Nov 24, 2014 at 19:42

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