intentional grounding rule

What Is Intentional Grounding Rule In Football?

If you want to know what is intentional grounding rule in football, we’ve lots of information about it below. Read ahead to learn more about the rule.

Football is a game of many rules. Rules are set to ensure plays are fair for both teams. You’ve probably seen quarterbacks sending passes to receivers. However, can they do the same when under pressure and there is no receiver for the pass?

Today, I’ll look at intentional grounding rules in football. So, what is the intentional grounding rule?

Intentional grounding is a foul made when a passer under the pressure of imminent yardage loss makes an incomplete pass due to defense pressure. The passer will pass the ball forward without any realistic chance of completion.

You’ve probably seen a quarterback (QB) avoiding a sack by throwing the ball away. However, there are rules on when a QB can throw a ball away. Looking to learn more, keep reading below.

NFL Intentional Grounding Rule

The NFL intentional grounding is a foul from a passer under pressure making an incomplete pass to avoid a sack or loss of yards. This usually happens due to the pressure a defense puts.

The NFL considers a realistic pass as one towards a receiver and one close to the intended receiver. However, that’s not always the case. There are instances when a QB can pass the ball without it being called an intentional grounding. Let’s look at those scenarios.

Ball or passer outside the tackle position

When a QB who is outside a tackle position makes a forward pass that goes past the scrimmage line. This will not be called intentional grounding even when there are no realistic receivers to catch the pass. 

football player in white jersey about to throw the ball

There is no intentional grounding as long as the ball lands beyond the scrimmage line, over the end line, sideline, or out of bounds. However, grounding rules will apply when the ball is recovered.

Physical contact

When there is physical contact, intentional grounding rules will not apply. Physical contact happens when a passer starts a throw motion to an eligible receiver but then gets contact from a defender making the ball land in a different direction. 

It can also happen when the pass is affected by contact from a receiver while out of pocket. This can cause the ball to land far from a scrimmage line.

Delayed spike

When a passer delays making a pass for strategic purposes, then he is prohibited from throwing the ball into the ground just in front of him. This is the case even when he is under pressure.

Stopping the clock

A player in the center can legally stop the clock and save time just after getting the snap. The player can then start a continuous throwing motion and then throw the ball to the ground.

Intentional Grounding Rule As per NCAA

The NCAA did put out these grounding rules in 2015. In section 3 or Article 2, the rules state that:

Intentional grounding is when a QB not inside the tackle box attempts to save yardage by intentionally throwing a desperate pass to a zone lacking an eligible receiver. When such a pass is made, then a ruling for intentional grounding is passed. The penalty is a loss of down at the spot with the clock starting a snap.

In the ruling above, the NCAA does not mention football going beyond the line of scrimmage. A rule for intentional grounding can happen when the QB launches the ball deep in the field without an eligible receiver.

According to the NCAA, here are scenarios when an intentional ruling can be called:

  • When the ball snaps over a QB in a shotgun formation, and the QB recovers, throwing the ball forward into the ground right away.
  • When a potential field goal holder on the 3rd down of either half muffs a snap, or a potential holder recovers but only to throw the ball forward into the ground.
  • When in the 3rd and 5th at your own 40 yards and a QB drops to pass. However, under pressure from rushing defenders, the QB throws the ball back to a running back who takes the ball outside the tackle box. When the running back is about to be tackled, he throws the ball forward at the 35-yard line that passes the neutral zone landing 20 yards away from the nearest receiver.

When Did Intentional Grounding Become A Rule

The rule of intentional grounding dates back to the year 1994. This happened two seasons after passes failed to lead to a turnover. There has been better clarification of the rules in the NFL and NCAA.

two referees on a football match

What Are The Exceptions To The Rule

However, there are a few exceptions when the intentional grounding rule does not apply. I’ve already mentioned the exceptions but let’s look at them in detail.

When the passer is hit by a defender

There is an exception to the rule when the QB gets hit by a defender just when he is in the motion of making a pass.

The referee will not call for an intentional grounding no matter where the ball lands. This is because the contact by a defender is believed to affect the trajectory of the ball.

Even when the QB was making a legal pass, it’s considered illegal because of the hit from a defender.

 When outside the tackle box

An intentional ground can also be exempted when the QB is outside a “tackle box”. This area is also called the pocket. It is the area between the right offensive tackle and the left offensive tackle.

As long as the QB is forced outside this area, then he is allowed to throw the ball anywhere without worrying about an intentional grounding.

What is the Penalty for Intentional Grounding?

In the NFL, an intentional grounding penalty leads to a loss of down for the offense and a loss of 10 yards.

The rules are the same for all levels in football with a slight change in the distance of yardage loss. While the NFL teams lose 10 yards, in college football, the next play will occur at the spot of the foul.

Why Is Intentional Grounding A Penalty

When players intentionally ground the ball, a penalty is given because it’s an unfair advantage to the quarterback passing the ball.

player in white and red jersey throwing football

The defense will never get a sack if they were allowed to throw the ball to any part of the field without rules.

Quarterbacks need to make realistic passes to areas with an eligible player to catch it.

Intentional Grounding FAQ

What Is The Difference Between Intentional Grounding & Throwing It Away?

The difference between intentional grounding and throwing is that intentional grounding involves an incomplete pass to areas in the field without eligible receivers. Throwing on the other hand involves a complete pass to an area with an eligible receiver.

How Many Yards Do You Lose For Intentional Grounding?

In the NFL, you lose 10 yards for an intentional grounding. However, the rules are slightly different in college where play starts from the spot where the foul occurred.

Is There Runoff For Intentional Grounding?

There is a 10-second runoff when a team commits an intentional grounding foul. The 10-second rule helps prevent teams from taking advantage of their own penalty.


Well, that wraps everything from me on the intentional grounding rule. This is one of the most confusing rules in football. A desperate pass under pressure to an ineligible receiver is what can cause an intentional grounding. 

Quarterbacks need to learn the intentional grounding rules and know when they can make a pass under pressure and avoid a penalty.

While it might seem right to throw the ball when under pressure, the result is an intentional grounding penalty.

Read Also: Want to know other rules in football? Read our guide on Fair Catch Rules in football to learn more about it.

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