SECTION 5. Fair Catch
ARTICLE 1. Dead Where Caught
- If a Team B player makes a fair catch, the ball becomes dead where caught and belongs to Team B at that spot.
- If a Team B player makes a valid fair catch signal, the unimpeded opportunity to catch a free or scrimmage kick continues if this player muffs the kick and still has an opportunity to complete the catch. This protection terminates when the kick touches the ground. If the player subsequently catches the kick, the ball is placed where he first touched it. (A.R. 6-5-1:I-II)
- Rules pertaining to a fair catch apply only when a scrimmage kick crosses the neutral zone or during free kicks.
- The purpose of the fair catch provision is to protect the receiver who, by his fair catch signal, agrees he or a teammate will not advance after the catch. (A.R. 6-5-5:III)
- The ball shall be put in play by a snap by the receiving team at the spot of the catch if the ball is caught (Exception: Rules 6-5-1-b, 7-1-1-b and 8-6-1-b).
Approved ruling 6-5-1
- After a valid or invalid signal, B1 muffs the punt and B2, who did not signal, catches the kick. RULING: The ball is dead when and where caught. [Cited by 6-5-1-b, 6-5-3-a]
- B1 has a foot out of bounds when he gives a valid or invalid signal. He then catches the kick inbounds. RULING: There is no rule against a receiver going out of bounds during a kick. The inbounds catch is legal, and the ball is dead. [Cited by 6-5-1-b]
ARTICLE 2. No Advance
No Team B player shall carry a caught or recovered ball more than two steps in any direction after any Team B player gives a valid or invalid fair catch signal. (A.R. 6-5-2:I-III)
PENALTY – Dead-ball foul, delay of game. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S7 and S21].
Approved ruling 6-5-2
- B1 gives a fair catch signal before a muff by B2, and then B1 catches or recovers the kick and advances. RULING: Because of B1’s signal, the ball is dead where caught or recovered. Two steps are permitted to enable B1 to come to a stop or to regain balance. A third or subsequent step inbounds is subject to penalty from where the ball is caught or recovered. If B1 is tackled, the tackle is disregarded unless deemed unnecessarily rough or is so late that the tackler should know that there was no intention to advance. If the kick is caught or recovered by Team B in the end zone, it is a touchback. If B1 is tackled before completion of a third step, only the tackler has fouled. [Cited by 6-5-2]
- Team A punts. After signalling for a fair catch on his 20-yard line, B1 deliberately lets the ball strike the ground where B2 recovers the bouncing ball and advances to Team B’s 35-yard line. RULING: The ball is dead at the spot of recovery. Advance is illegal. Penalty — Five yards from the succeeding spot, the spot of recovery. Team B’s ball, first and 10 (Rule 5-2-7). [Cited by 6-5-2]
- Punt receiver B22 gives an invalid fair catch signal by a brief flick of his upraised hand. He catches the ball at the B-35 and sprints to the B-40 where he is tackled. RULING: The ball is dead where caught. Foul for delay of game by B22; five-yard penalty from the dead-ball spot. No foul by the tackler, as clearly B22 gave the appearance of being a ball carrier. First and 10 for Team B at the B-30. [Cited by 6-5-2]
ARTICLE 3. Invalid Signals: Catch or Recovery
- A catch after an invalid signal is not a fair catch, and the ball is dead where caught or recovered. If the signal follows a catch or recovery, the ball is dead when the signal is first given. (A.R. 6-5-1:I)
- Invalid signals beyond the neutral zone apply only to Team B.
- An invalid signal beyond the neutral zone is possible only when the ball has crossed the neutral zone (Rule 2-16-7). (A.R. 6-5-3:I)
Approved ruling 6-5-3
- A1 or B1 signals for a fair catch beyond the neutral zone during a kick that does not cross the neutral zone. RULING: Any signal by Team A is ignored. Team B may not make a fair catch signal because the ball did not cross the neutral zone. However, the ball is dead when caught or recovered (Rules 2-8-1-a and 4-1-3-g). [Cited by 6-5-3-c]
- On a free kick, B17 makes an invalid signal for a fair catch near the sideline, muffs the ball, and it goes out of bounds. RULING: Team B’s ball, first and 10 at the hash mark.
- A scrimmage kick strikes the ground beyond the neutral zone and bounces high into the air and B1 signals for a fair catch. RULING: Invalid signal. The ball is dead when recovered. [Cited by 2-8-3-b]
- B1 catches a scrimmage kick beyond the neutral zone and then signals for a fair catch. RULING: Invalid signal. The ball is dead where the signal first was given. [Cited by 2-8-3-b]
- Team A’s scrimmage kick is rolling beyond the neutral zone when B17 alerts his teammates to stay away from the ball by a “get away” signal. RULING: Invalid signal. The ball is dead by rule when either team recovers. [Cited by 2-8-3-b]
ARTICLE 4. Illegal Block or Contact
A player of Team B who has made a valid or invalid signal for a fair catch and does not touch the ball shall not block or foul an opponent during that down. (A.R. 6-5-4:I and II)
PENALTY – Free kick: Receiving team’s ball 15 yards from the spot of the foul [S40]. Scrimmage kick: 15 yards, postscrimmage kick enforcement [S40].
Approved ruling 6-5-4
- B1 signals and does not touch a punt. While the untouched ball is loose in the field of play, he blocks an opponent (a) in the field of play beyond the neutral zone or (b) in Team B’s end zone. RULING: (a) If the ball crosses the neutral zone and Team B has possession when the down ends, Team B is penalised 15 yards from the postscrimmage kick enforcement spot. (b) Safety. The ruling is the same on an unsuccessful field goal attempt. [Cited by 6-5-4]
- B1 signals at the 50-yard line and does not touch a punt. While the ball is rolling on the ground at Team B’s 45-yard line, B1 illegally uses his hands in an attempt to get to the ball and the ball is declared dead in Team B’s possession. RULING: Penalty — 15 yards, postscrimmage kick enforcement. The ball belongs to Team B (Rule 10-2-3). [Cited by 6-5-4]
ARTICLE 5. No Tackling
No player of the kicking team shall tackle or block an opponent who has completed a fair catch. Only the player making a fair catch signal has this protection (A.R. 6-5-5:I and III).
- PENALTY –
- Dead-ball foul. Receiving team’s ball 15 yards from the succeeding spot [S7 and S38].
Approved ruling 6-5-5
- B1 and B2 each signal. B1 muffs, and B2 is about to catch the muffed ball when A1 grabs and pulls him to the ground. RULING: Not interference, but holding. Penalty — 10 yards from the previous spot or from the spot where the subsequent dead ball belongs to Team B. [Cited by 6-5-5]
- B22 makes a fair catch and is tackled before he has carried the ball more than two steps. RULING: Foul by the tackler. Penalty — 15 yards from the succeeding spot.
- B1 catches the punt after B3 signals for a fair catch. RULING: The ball is dead when and where caught. B1 is not entitled to catch protection but is entitled to the same protection he has after any other dead ball (Rule 6-5-1-d). [Cited by 6-5-1-d, 6-5-5]