fair catch rule

What Is the Fair Catch Rule in Football?

American football can be extremely dangerous if rules are not followed. When catching the ball on flight after a kickoff or punt return, the returner is harshly tackled. However, that can be avoided if the returner signals for a fair catch.

So, what is a fair catch rule? Fair catch rules allow for an uninterrupted catch of football that is in the air after a kickoff by a player of the receiving team after giving a valid fair catch signal.

The rule guards the returner whenever they are catching high kicks after a kickoff or punt. Keep reading below to understand more about what a fair catch means in football and how to initiate it.

What Is a Fair Catch in Football?

Let’s first understand what a fair catch in football is.

The fair catching rule in football is a rule that allows a player attempting to catch a high ball after a punt or kick by the opposing team to catch it without interference. The player must signal for a fair catch.

A ball caught in this manner goes dead and the player catching the ball cannot advance with it. The receiving team will always start its drive at the spot where the ball was caught.

In American football, it refers to a fair catch as an interrupted catch of football when the ball is in the air and before it crosses the scrimmage line. A player receiving the ball must signal for a fair catch.

Other rules in football include the football touchback rules that return the ball to the 25-yard line.

What’s the Fair Catch Signal in the National Football League?

In the National Football League, a fair catch on a kickoff is an unobstructed attempt to catch the ball by the receiving team after a kickoff. However, the rule must be called for. 

So, what is the fair catch signal in the NFL? The NFL fair catch signal is done by a receiver. A receiver needs to put one arm above the head while waving it sideways as the ball is airborne.

players catching the ball

Once that signal is given, the team to kick is required not to interfere with any attempt by the receiver to catch the ball. College football kickoff rules are slightly different from the NFL.

While rule applies, the ball must be caught within 25 yards of the return team. Once caught, the catch rule leads to a touchback offense and the ball returns to the 25-yard line for play.

How To Start a Fair Catch Kick

You initiate a fair catch kick by simply calling for it.

Once the ball is collected by the receiver, the coach will then inform the referee they are attempting a kick due to fair catching of the ball.

Both coaches will then support their kickoffs. It is a very unique rule where the defense cannot run or attempt to block the kick. Additionally, the team to kick needs covering before they can kick.

The defense usually stands still and waits for the return team to kick the ball. It is usually similar to a kickoff return. However, players remain still.

Overall, the rule does not seem fair as the kicking team earns free kicks to add to their points.. Generally, teams need football audible calls to communicate effectively and change play from the line of scrimmage. 

Fair Catch Kicks Are Worth How Many Points?

Three points are awarded for fair catching fouls in football. When there is a fair catch foul, a kick is given to the receiving team. The kick is usually a drop kick or a place kick.

 A player then takes the kick. If the kick passes through the uprights and between the goalposts of the opposing team, then three points are scored. This is usually known as a free field goal.

What Is the Rule for Fair Catch Interference?

A fair catch interference is a penalty that is given when a player of the kicking team tackles or disrupts a receiver that has called for a fair catch. Once a player calls for a fair catch, the team to kick should not disrupt.

athletes mediate by referee

The rule was put in place to protect a receiver from potential injuries that might occur when they jump to receive the ball.

Where Is the Ball Placed on a Fair Catch?

The ball is placed at the dead-ball spot and put into play by the receiving team. A dead-ball spot is an exact point where the receiver catches the ball.

However, in college football, the ball is placed at the 25-yard line after a fair catch. In addition, the returner must catch the ball inside the 25-yard line.

What Is an Illegal Fair Catch Signal?

An illegal fair catch signal is a penalty awarded when a player signals for a fair catch after a punt or kickoff but does not fully extend his hand. In a fair catch signal, the hand needs to be raised above the head and waved from side to side when the ball is in flight.

If a player catches the ball after an invalid fair catch play, the ball is dead once caught by a player on the receiving team. However, it is not considered a fair catch. The receiving team is usually penalized 5 yards from the spot of the signal.

What Happens if You Call a Fair Catch and Drop It?

If a player calls for a fair catch by raising the hand above the head and waving but drops the ball, the ball is up for grabs by all sides. Any player from either side can grab the ball and throw it. The team that grabs the ball regains possession and can advance. 

athletes playing football

They can also throw the ball and look to score a touchdown. If they throw the ball, then they must know how to throw a football and target one of their players for a touchdown.


Well, that wraps everything about a fair catch rule! A fair catch rule allows unhindered catching of a high ball after a kick or punt by the receiving team. 

However, as a rule, the player receiving the game must call for the rule by signaling. A signal is raising the hand over your head and waving it from side to side.

A foul on a fair catch results in a field kick that can win the team three points.

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