two penalty flags on the football field

By Rule: How to Enforce a Double Foul in Football


During a pass play, the HL threw a flag for DPI. The ball was then intercepted. During the subsequent run, the Team B player fumbled the ball and a Team A player batted the ball to keep it inbounds. The HL threw a flag for illegal batting. So how do we think through the penalty enforcement?

Rule 2-16-2b defines a double foul:

“One or more live-ball fouls (other than nonplayer or unsportsmanlike) are committed by each team at such a time that the penalties offset.”

This is a classic example of a double foul

Each team fouled, so even though we had a change of possession (and a lengthy time interval between the two fouls), the penalties will offset. Replay the down.

If the Team A player had realized:

a) the batting was a foul, and

b) Team B had fouled so, without the bat, Team A would be awarded a 15-yard penalty from the previous spot…

…he would not have batted the ball.

Hypothetical scenario that provides a twist

Now, let’s add another component to the discussion. Let’s hypothetically say Team B intercepted the pass without fouling, then committed a foul during the subsequent run. Then add the Team B fumble and the Team A bat.

In this hypothetical case, Rule 10-2-2 would apply:

“If each team fouls during a down in which there is a change of team possession and the play does not have a post-scrimmage kick foul, the team last gaining possession may retain the ball, provided: a) The foul by the team last gaining possession is not prior to the final change of possession, and b) The team last gaining possession declines the penalty for its opponent’s foul(s), other than a nonplayer or unsportsmanlike foul.”

We call this the clean hands rule

Team A will accept Team B’s foul. Team B can then decline Team A’s batting foul and their foul will be enforced because they gained possession of the ball with clean hands.

The crew excelled for multiple reasons:

1) The covering official did not blow an inadvertent whistle after the DPI and interception (trust me, it is tempting to want to shut the play down because Team B fouled before the interception and we can’t let them get away with that, dang it!);

2) The flag for the bat (this is an uncommon foul and sometimes we see it but we don’t process it at a foul because it rarely occurs); and

3) The crew correctly enforced the penalties and replayed the down.

It looks weird to replay a down when so much goes on during a play (change of possession and two flags), but that’s the correct enforcement by rule. Great job!