If an inbounds player of the receiving team is located where he could catch a free kick or a scrimmage kick that is beyond the neutral zone, and if he is attempting to do so, he must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick (A.R. 6-3-1:III)(A.R. 6-4-1:V, VI and IX).
It is an interference foul if, before the receiver touches the ball, a Team A player enters the area defined by the width of the receiver’s shoulders and extending one yard in front of him. When in question it is a foul. (A.R. 6-4-1:X-XIII)
This protection ends when the kick touches the ground (Exception: Free kick, Rule 6-4-1-f below), when any player of Team B muffs or touches a scrimmage kick beyond the neutral zone, or when any player of Team B muffs or touches a free kick in the field of play or in the end zone (Exception: Rule 6-5-1-b). (A.R. 6-4-1:IV)
If interference with a potential receiver is the result of a player being blocked by an opponent, it is not a foul.
It is an interference foul if the kicking team contacts the potential receiver before, or simultaneous to, his first touching the ball (A.R. 6-4-1:II, III and VIII). When in question, it is an interference foul.
During a free kick, a player of the receiving team in position to receive the ball has the same kick-catch and fair-catch protection whether the ball is kicked directly off the tee or is immediately driven to the ground, strikes the ground once and goes into the air in the manner of the ball kicked directly off the tee.
If contact by Team A is deemed to be a targeting foul (Rules 9-1-3 and 9-1-4), or any other personal foul that interferes with the receiver’s opportunity to catch a kick, it may be ruled either as interference or as a targeting or personal foul. The 15-yard penalty is enforced at the spot where the dead ball belongs to Team B or at the spot of the foul, at the option of Team B.
For foul between the goal lines: Receiving team’s ball, first down, 15 yards beyond the spot of the foul for an interference foul [S33]. For foul behind the goal line: Award a touchback and penalise from the succeeding spot. Flagrant offenders shall be disqualified [S47].
Approved ruling 6-4-1
A Team A player catches a free kick very near receiver B25, thus preventing him from making the catch. RULING: Kick-catch interference. Penalty — 15 yards from the spot of the foul.
A Team B player, about to catch a scrimmage kick, is tackled before the ball arrives, but catches the kick while he is falling. RULING: Kick-catch interference. Penalty — 15 yards from the spot of the foul. Disqualification of the Team A player if the contact is flagrant. If the foul is between the goal lines, enforcement is from the spot of the foul and Team B puts the ball in play by a snap; if behind Team B’s goal line, award a touchback and penalise from the succeeding spot. The ruling would be the same had the kick been muffed or fumbled. The ruling is also the same on an unsuccessful field goal attempt since Team B touched the ball beyond the neutral zone. [Cited by 6-4-1-e]
Beyond the neutral zone A1 is standing or running between a kick in flight and B1, and (a) A1 is struck by the ball while B1 is in a position to catch the ball; or (b) B1, in attempting to catch the ball, bumps into A1. RULING: Kick-catch interference. Penalty — (a) and (b): 15 yards at the spot of the foul. [Cited by 6-4-1-e]
A player of Team B, attempting to catch a kick (no fair catch signal), muffs the ball that is then touched by an opponent who was not interfering with the opportunity of the receiver when he was in position to make the catch. RULING: Not interference. In the absence of a fair catch signal, protection against interference with the opportunity to catch a kick ends when any player of Team B muffs the ball. [Cited by 6-4-1-c]
A Team A player beyond the neutral zone first touches or catches a scrimmage kick that no receiver could have caught while it was in flight. RULING: Illegal touching but not interference. [Cited by 6-4-1-a]
B25 is standing at the B-35 in position to catch a punt. As the ball is on its downward flight, A88 runs by B25 very close to his side, causing B25 to adjust his position before catching the ball. A88 does not make contact and does not penetrate the one-yard area directly in front of B25. RULING: Foul by A88, interference with the opportunity to catch the kick. 15 yards, spot of the foul. Even though B25 catches the ball, A88’s action causes him to move away from his original location and thus interferes with his opportunity to make the catch. [Cited by 6-4-1-a]
B10 signals for a fair catch, muffs the ball and then catches it. RULING: If B10 has an opportunity to catch the kick after the muff, he must be given an unimpeded opportunity to complete the catch. If B10 catches the muffed kick, the ball is dead where he first touched it.
Fourth and 10 at the 50-yard line. B17 is at Team B’s 20-yard line and in position to catch Team A’s high scrimmage kick. During the downward flight of the ball, A37 contacts B17 viciously and flagrantly before he touches the ball. A37 did not alter his speed or make any attempt to elude B17. RULING: Team A flagrant personal foul, interference with the opportunity to catch a kick. Penalty — 15 yards from the spot of the foul. A37 is disqualified. [Cited by 6-4-1-e]
Team A’s ball, fourth and 10 at the 50-yard line. Team A’s windblown scrimmage kick is on its downward flight at Team B’s 30-yard line. B18, starting at the 20-yard line, must detour around A92 at the 25-yard line to make the catch at the 30-yard line. RULING: Foul by A92 for interference with the opportunity to catch a kick. Penalty — 15 yards from the spot of the foul, which is the 25-yard line. [Cited by 6-4-1-a]
Punt receiver B44 is standing at his 30-yard line in position to catch the kick. Defender A11 races down the field to cover the punt and reaches a point about a foot directly in front of B44 as the ball descends. B44 makes the catch without having to adjust his position or manner of catching the ball because of the presence of A11, who does not pull back to give B44 more room. RULING: Foul for kick-catch interference. A11 entered the one-yard area directly in front of receiver B44. 15-yard penalty. [Cited by 6-4-1-b]
Punt receiver B22 is at the B-30 awaiting the punt as it makes its downward flight and his teammate B88 is three yards in front of him at the B-33. Down field to cover the kick, A44 legally blocks B88 into B22 just as the ball reaches him. The ball hits B22 in the shoulder and bounces away. Team A recovers at the B-25. RULING: Team A’s ball, first and 10 at the B-25. This is not kick-catch interference. The action by A44 is against B88 who is not in position to catch the kick, and not against B22. Thus A44 is not deemed to have interfered with B22’s opportunity to catch the ball. B22’s touching of the ball allows Team A to recover legally. [Cited by 6-4-1-b]
Fourth and five at the A-30. Punt receiver B22 is in position to catch the kick at the B-30. He does not signal. A88 is within a yard of B22, at his side, but does not make contact with B22 when he catches the kick at the B-30. B22 is tackled at the B-32. A88’s presence does not cause B22 to make any adjustment to his position or his manner of catching the ball. RULING: Legal play; no kick-catch interference. A88 is closer than one yard to B22 but is not directly in front of him. He does not affect B22’s opportunity to catch the ball. First and 10 for Team B at the B-32. [Cited by 6-4-1-b]
B44 is in position to catch a punt at the B-25. While the ball is still very high in the air and well before it comes close to B44, A88 runs directly in front of B44 within a yard but is not near him when the ball arrives. B44 catches the punt and is tackled. RULING: No foul. Although A88 penetrates the one-yard region directly in front of the receiver, this is so early in the action that there is no interference with B44’s opportunity to catch the kick. [Cited by 6-4-1-b]