IFAF RULE 4 – Ball in Play, Dead Ball, Out of Bounds

Need in a quick overview of rule 4? Download the free Fanlevel slidepack.


SECTION 1. Ball in Play – Dead Ball


ARTICLE 1. Dead Ball Becomes Alive


After a dead ball is ready for play, it becomes a live ball when it is legally snapped or legally free-kicked. A ball snapped or free-kicked before it is ready for play remains dead. (A.R. 2-16-4:I) (A.R. 4-1-4:I and II) (A.R. 7-1-3:IV) (A.R. 7-1-5:I and II)

ARTICLE 2. Live Ball Becomes Dead



  1. A live ball becomes a dead ball as provided in the rules, or when an official sounds his whistle (even though inadvertently), or otherwise signals the ball dead. (A.R. 4-2-1:II) (A.R. 4-2-4:I)

  2. If an official sounds his whistle inadvertently or otherwise signals the ball dead during a down (Rules 4-1-3-k, 4-1-3-m and 4-1-3-n) (A.R. 4-1-2:I-V):

    1. When the ball is in player possession, then the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where declared dead or repeat the down.

    2. When the ball is loose from a fumble, backward pass or illegal pass, then the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where possession was lost or repeat the down.

    3. Exceptions:

      1. Rule 12.

      2. If there is a clear catch, recovery or interception of the pass or kick in the immediate continuing action after the inadvertent whistle, then the ball belongs to the recovering team at the spot of the recovery and any advance is nullified.

    4. During a legal forward pass or a free or scrimmage kick, then the ball is returned to the previous spot and the down repeated.

      Exceptions:

      1. Rule 12.

      2. If there is a clear catch, recovery or interception of the pass or kick in the immediate continuing action after the inadvertent whistle, then the ball belongs to the recovering team at the spot of the recovery and any advance is nullified.

    5. After Team B gains possession on the try or during an extra period, then the try is over or the extra-period possession series is ended.

  3. If a foul or violation occurs during any of the above downs, the penalty or violation privilege shall be administered as in any other play situation if not in conflict with other rules. (A.R. 4-1-2:I and II)

Approved ruling 4-1-2


  1. Team A punts on fourth and 15 at the A-30. B44 is in position to receive the kick. In attempting to catch the ball, B44 muffs it at the B-35. The back judge blows his whistle when it appears that B44 is catching the ball, but it rolls along the ground after B44 muffs it. A88 chases the ball, and in the immediate continuing football action he recovers it while grounded at the B-30. B22 is flagged for holding during the kick. RULING: Inadvertent whistle. Rule 4-1-2-b-3 Exception 2 applies. Team A declines the penalty and will have the ball at the B-30, first and 10. [Cited by 4-1-2-b, 4-1-2-c]
  2. Team A punts on fourth and 15 at the A-30. B44 is in position to receive the kick. In attempting to catch the ball, B44 muffs it at the B-35. The back judge blows his whistle when it appears that B44 is catching the ball, but it rolls along the ground after B44 muffs it. The ball disappears into a pile of players. B22 is flagged for holding during the kick. RULING: Inadvertent whistle. Since there is no clear recovery of the kick, the ruling of the dead ball stands. The holding penalty is enforced at the B-35, under postscrimmage kick rules. Team B’s ball, first and 10 at the B-25. [Cited by 4-1-2-b, 4-1-2-c]
  3. First and 10 at the B-45. Ball carrier A22 is tackled and is going to the ground, when he fumbles. An official sounds his whistle inadvertently. Players on both teams go after the ball, and B66 clearly recovers it while grounded. RULING: Inadvertent whistle. Rule 4-1-2-b-2 Exception 2 applies. If it is determined that A22 lost control of the ball before he was down, then the ball belongs to Team B at the spot of the recovery by B66. In the event that it cannot be determined which team recovers the ball, Team A retains possession at the dead-ball spot or may elect to repeat the down. [Cited by 4-1-2-b]
  4. Team A punts on fourth and 15 at the A-30. B44 is in position to receive the kick. In attempting to catch the ball, B44 muffs it at the B-35. The back judge blows his whistle when it appears that B44 is catching the ball, but it rolls along the ground after B44 muffs it. A88 chases the ball, and in the immediate continuing football action he recovers it while grounded at the B-30. RULING: Inadvertent whistle. Rule 4-1-2-b-3 Exception 2 applies. Team A will have the ball at the B-30, first and 10. [Cited by 4-1-2-b]
  5. Team A punts on fourth and 15 at the A-30. B44 is in position to receive the kick. In attempting to catch the ball, B44 muffs it at the B-35. The back judge blows his whistle when it appears that B44 is catching the ball, but it rolls along the ground after B44 muffs it. The ball disappears into a pile of players. RULING: Inadvertent whistle. Since there is no clear recovery of the kick, the ruling of the dead ball stands. Repeat the down at the previous spot. [Cited by 4-1-2-b]
  6. What is meant by “otherwise signals the ball dead” in Rule 4-1-2-b? RULING: It means an official giving one of the following signals: stop the clock (S3); touchdown/field goal (S5); safety (S6); dead ball (S7); incomplete pass (S10). Such a signal interrupted before the official’s arms are held or moved in the correct position is not regarded as a signal.

ARTICLE 3. Ball Declared Dead


A live ball becomes dead and an official shall sound his whistle or declare it dead:

  1. When it goes out of bounds other than a kick that scores a field goal after touching only the uprights or crossbar; when a ball carrier is out of bounds; or when a ball carrier is so held that his forward progress is stopped. When in question, the ball is dead. (A.R. 4-2-1:II)

  2. When any part of the ball carrier’s body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground or when the ball carrier is tackled or otherwise falls and loses possession of the ball as he contacts the ground with any part of his body, except his hand or foot. (Exception: The ball remains alive when an offensive player has simulated a kick or at the snap is in position to kick the ball held for a place kick by a teammate. The ball may be kicked, passed or advanced by rule.) (A.R. 4-1-3:I)

  3. When a touchdown, touchback, safety, field goal, or successful try occurs; or when a free kick or a scrimmage kick that is untouched by Team B beyond the neutral zone touches the ground in Team B’s end zone (A.R. 6-3-9:I)

  4. When, during a try, a dead-ball rule applies. (Rule 8-3-2-d-5).

  5. When a player of the kicking team catches or recovers any free kick or a scrimmage kick that has crossed the neutral zone.

  6. When a free kick, scrimmage kick or any other loose ball comes to rest and no player attempts to secure it.

  7. When a scrimmage kick or a free kick is caught or recovered by any player after a valid or invalid fair catch signal; or when an invalid fair catch signal is made after a catch or recovery by Team B (Rules 2-8-1, 2-8-2 and 2-8-3).

  8. When there is a return kick or a scrimmage kick is made beyond the neutral zone.

  9. When a forward pass is ruled incomplete.

  10. When, before a change of team possession on fourth down or a try, a Team A fumble is caught or recovered by a Team A player other than the fumbler (Rules 7-2-2-a, 7-2-2-b and 8-3-2-d-5).

  11. When a live ball not in player possession touches anything inbounds other than a player, a player’s equipment, an official, an official’s equipment or the ground (inadvertent whistle provisions apply).

  12. When there is a simultaneous catch or recovery of a live ball.

  13. When the ball becomes illegal while in play (inadvertent whistle provisions apply).

  14. When a live ball comes into possession of an official (inadvertent whistle provisions apply).

  15. When a ball carrier simulates placing his knee on the ground.

  16. When an airborne pass receiver from either team is held so that he is prevented from immediately returning to the ground. (A.R. 7-3-6:III)

  17. When a ball carrier’s helmet comes completely off.

  18. When a ball carrier obviously begins a feet-first slide. (A.R. 4-1-3:III)
  19. When all players in the vicinity of the ball stop playing and/or believe it to be dead.

Approved ruling 4-1-3


  1. While A1 is holding the ball for a place kick, Team B plays the ball by (a) recovering a loose ball, (b) snatching it from A1 or (c) batting it from his hands. RULING: (a), (b) and (c) The ball remains alive. In (c) the batting by Team B is legal and results in a fumble. [Cited by 2-11-1, 4-1-3-b]
  2. Team A is in formation to attempt a field goal. At the snap A22 is in position to execute a right-footed place kick and A33 is in position as the holder. The snap goes to A33 who has a knee on the ground. Just after the snap A22 breaks to his left and toward the neutral zone, and A33, while still on his knee, flips a forward pass to A22 who carries the ball beyond the line to gain before he is tackled. RULING: Legal play, because at the snap A22 was in position to attempt a place kick. First and 10 for Team A.
  3. Third and 10 at the A-35. Quarterback A11 sweeps to his right and goes into a feet-first slide to give himself up. When he starts his slide, the forward-most point of the ball is at the A-44, and when he comes to a stop the forward-most point of the ball is at the A-46. RULING: Fourth and one at the A-44. The ball is dead at its forward-most point when he starts his slide.
  4. B23 catches a kick but does not advance. No Team A player attempts to tackle B23. (i) B23 places the ball on the ground and walks away from it, or (ii) tosses the ball to an official. RULING: The ball is dead when it is clear B23 is not going to advance it (Rule 4-1-3-r).
  5. Team A punts the ball downfield and no Team B player attempts to catch or recover it. A40 touches the ball and stops it rolling but does not secure possession of it. A40 walks away from the ball and no Team B player moves to recover the ball. RULING: The ball is dead when it is clear that players in the vicinity of the ball show no interest in recovering it (Rule 4-1-3-f).
  6. Team A punts the ball downfield and no Team B player attempts to catch or recover it. A40 touches the ball and stops it rolling but does not secure possession of it. A40 walks away from the ball and no nearby Team B player moves to recover the ball. After 2 seconds, B33 shouts “it’s still live” and starts running towards the ball, picks it up and advances with it. RULING: The ball is dead when it is clear that players in the vicinity of the ball show no interest in recovering it. B33’s action occurred after the ball became dead (Rule 4-1-3-f).
  7. 4th and 10 on Team B’s 15-yard line. Team A attempts a field goal but the kick is partially blocked. The ball rolls to a stop at Team B’s 2-yard line where B15 picks it up but does not advance. A24 stops next to B15 but does not tackle him. After a pause, B15 hands the ball to A24 who advances into the end zone. RULING: The ball is dead when it is clear that B15 is not going to advance the ball. Handing the ball to an opponent shows that B15 believes the ball to be dead. Not tackling an opponent shows that A24 believes the ball to be dead. Team B’s ball 1st and 10 at their 2-yard line. (Rules 4-1-3-r and 5-1-1-e-1.)
  8. 4th and 10 on Team A’s 40-yard line. Team A’s punt is blocked and does not cross the neutral zone. A84 recovers the ball behind the neutral zone at Team A’s 45-yard line, but does not advance. Team B players start leaving the field. RULING: The ball is dead when it is clear that A84 is not going to advance it. Team B’s ball 1st and 10 at Team A’s 45-yard line. (Rules 4-1-3-r and 5-1-1-c.)
  9. A2’s place kick is driven low and strikes the crossbar. The ball bounces off the crossbar directly onto the helmet of B80 who is standing in the end zone. The ball ricochets off B80’s helmet over the crossbar and between the posts. RULING: No score. The ball is dead when it hits the crossbar. By interpretation, if it continues on through the uprights after striking the crossbar, it is good, but the attempt in this play is no good because it touches something else before going through the goal. [Cited by 4-1-3-a]
  10. A2’s place kick is driven low and strikes the crossbar. The ball bounces off the crossbar, bounces directly up before hitting the crossbar again and then going through the uprights. RULING: Field goal. As long as the ball does not touch anything other than the uprights or crossbar before going through, the score is good. [Cited by 4-1-3-a]

ARTICLE 4. Ball Ready for Play


No player shall put the ball in play before it is ready for play. (A.R. 4-1-4:I and II)
PENALTY –
Dead-ball foul for delay of game. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S21].

Approved ruling 4-1-4


  1. Snapper A1 snaps the ball before the ball is made ready for play. A2 muffs the snap and B1 recovers the ball. RULING: Dead ball foul, Team A delay of game. Penalty – Five-yards from the succeeding spot, Team A’s ball. The ball does not become alive, and all action should be stopped immediately by the game officials. [Cited by 2-2-4-b, 4-1-1, 4-1-4, 7-1-1-a]
  2. Kicker A1 kicks off before the referee has declared the ball ready for play. RULING: Dead ball foul. Penalty – Five yards from the succeeding spot. The ball does not become alive, and all action should be stopped immediately by the game officials. [Cited by 2-2-4-b, 4-1-1, 4-1-4, 7-1-1-a]

ARTICLE 5. Play-Clock Count


The ball shall be put in play within 40 or 25 seconds after it is made ready for play (Rule 3-2-4), unless, during that interval, play is suspended. If play is suspended, the play-clock count will start again.
PENALTY –
Dead-ball foul for delay of game. Five yards from the succeeding spot[S21].