You may have seen several instances by now where yellow penalty flags fly during a play but when the referee explains the fouls, he closes by saying that the penalties “offset” and they replay the down like nothing happened. Did this make you scratch your head? Behold the wonder of the “double foul.”
It is entirely possible for fouls to be committed by each team either as the ball is snapped or during the play—called the “live ball” period. By rule, when each team commits live ball fouls, neither is enforced and the down is a do-over. There are a few exceptions, however:
1. If a change in possession occurred during the play (for example, with a fumble), the team that ended up with the ball gets to keep the ball, unless that team’s foul occurred before the change in possession.
2. If the penalties occurred after the change in possession, the team that ended up with the ball gets to keep the ball, either where its foul was committed or where the play ended.
3. If one of the fouls is serious enough to merit ejection of the offending player, the player is still ejected. However, there is no yardage penalty assessed.
4. On kicking plays (kickoff, punt, field goal), if the kicking team’s penalty occurred before the receiving team gets the ball, the receiving team has two options. First, it can choose to replay the down like nothing happened. Or, it can allow its penalty to be enforced and then start its drive at the resulting spot.
5. A major (15-yard) penalty will not be offset by a minor (5-yard) penalty.
Remember, the above only applies when the fouls by both teams occur during the play. Therefore, if the offense commits a holding penalty during the play, but then the defense commits a personal foul penalty after the play is over, both penalties will be enforced.
What if the same team commits multiple fouls during a play? Again, it depends on when the fouls occur:
1. When all of the team’s fouls are committed after the play is over (the “dead ball” period), all penalties are enforced in the order in which they occurred.
2. If a team committed multiple fouls during the live ball period, only one is enforced, with the other team choosing which one it is.
3. If the same team commits fouls during both the dead ball and live ball periods, all of the penalties are enforced.
Easy, right? These scenarios are often why the officials might have an extra-long discussion before the referee announces the penalties. So, maybe you'll take it easy on them the next time their huddle takes a little while?