Pass Interference

What Is Pass Interference In Football?

In a football game, sometimes fans are stunned by very controversial decisions. This leaves some wondering if the referee is right. If there is one pass in football that is confusing, then it passes interference.

So, what’s pass interference in football? And why is it so confusing?

According to the NFL rulebook, pass interference is called by a referee when a defender hinders or interferes with a fair attempt by a receiver to catch the ball.

The interference contact must occur a yard past the line of scrimmage and cause a significant hindrance.

Let’s dig deep and see what’s an interference pass and its penalty.

What Is the NFL Pass Interference Rule?

Pass interference in football is a call by the referee when a player interferes with another player making a fair catch.

The NFL describes an interference pass as one when the player catches, holds, triples, cuts in front of the receiver, or puts their hands on their face.

The rules on interference passes are clear and state what should not count as an interference pass. Accidental contact when players bump into each other while jumping is not called for interference.

History of the Pass Interference Rule

A pass interference rule history cannot be talked about without mentioning the introduction of a forward pass in football. The forward pass was introduced in 1906.

football stadium with large crowd

However, brutality in football led to recommendations by then President Theodore Roosevelt to put rules that would tame the game. One of the items on the agenda of taming football injuries was a forward pass.

A committee was formed in 1910 that looked to create a balance between attack and defense in football.

The committee ruled that a forward pass would be made but not travel more than 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. The pass must also be thrown five yards behind the scrimmage line.

These rules made the foundation of the pass interference to what we have today.

When Did Pass Interference Become a Penalty

Pass interference became a penalty once the rules were implemented in 1910. However, the penalty by then was a loss of 10 yards from the first down and previous spot.

The offensive interference rule was addressed again in 1922 when the penalty got increased to 15 yards. The penalty remains so, up to now, with the NFL only making changes on what amounts to a contact interference.

Penalties For Pass Interference Of Various Types

Depending on the team that causes the interference, there are 2 types of interference in football.

Offensive Pass Interference

An offensive interference occurs when an offensive player rushes and blocks off the defensive player higher than one yard off the scrimmage line.

whistling referee

Common offensive pass interferences occur when contact is made even before passing the ball.

Offensive players running after a snap beyond the neutral zone and pushing a defender earn then a personal foul.

Defensive Pass Interference

Defensive pass interference will only occur after the quarterback makes a pass and a defender tries to interfere with the fair catch while the football is still up the air.

However, any defensive foul before a snap is called a defensive holding. It’s foul with a five-yard penalty.

How Is Pass Interference Penalized?

A fine for pass interference is based on whether it’s a defensive or an offensive one. In the AFL and NFL, the penalty for defensive pass interference is a first down on the same spot the foul occurred.

Offensive pass interference gives a 10-yard penalty from previous spots. Let’s look at the penalties in the different leagues.


When it comes to the NFL, the penalty is a point of the foul and a first automatic down.


In the NCAA, the penalty leads to a 15 yards loss on the point of the foul and an automatic first down. This is a maximum of 15 yards from the previous spot.

High School

In high school, the penalty is just 15 yards.

high school football

Who Had the Most Pass Interference Calls in the NFL?

When you consider statistics from the year 2016 to 2021 alone, several players have been efficient at drawing pass interference calls. Matt Ryan tops the charts with 29 pass interference calls. 

Other players on the top ten list include Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Andy Dalton, among many more.

What Is the Football Penalty Signal for Pass Interference?

The signal for pass interference is shown with the referee raising both arms to the chest. The arms have the palms facing out. He then makes an outward pushing motion before pointing with his hand to the side with the interference.

Examples of Pass Interference In Football

Let’s see some common examples of interference in football.

  •  A defensive player hooking an offensive receiver and making the receiver turn differently before the ball arrives
  •  A defensive player making contact with an offensive player and restricting their ability to catch the ball
  •  A defensive player extending their arms in front of the receiver and restricting their ability to catch the ball

What’s the Difference Between Pass Interference and Holding?

Pass interference is a contact made to a receiver while the ball is in the air. On the other hand, a holding is a foul taking place before the ball is thrown.

football player in white jersey about to throw the ball

When Did Pass Interference Become a Spot Foul

A pass interference became a spot foul in 1928 when interference was not allowed beyond a neutral zone.

How Many Yards a Pass Interference Call?

A pass interference call is 10 yards in the NFL and AFL. However, in amateur leagues, the call is 15 yards.


Pass interference calls are quite controversial and leave most baffled. However, they are necessary and help prevent injuries when eligible players are catching a ball. 

Players should not make illegal contacts when a player on the opposite team is trying to catch the ball fairly. When contact is made, a pass interference call is given.

A pass interference results in a 10-yard loss from the previous spot. It is controversial since it’s the referee that makes the call.

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