What is Pass Interference In Football?

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Pass Interference In Football

Pass Interference is one of the most common penalties in football. It is also one of the most controversial, as it leads to passionate football fans on their feet with their hands in the air at key moments in a game. 

Sometimes, a call will be made; other times, a similar play will occur, and refs will not throw the flag. This can lead to confusion among fans trying to pick up the rules and what makes a pass interference penalty. 

Pass interference calls are tough because contact with the opposition is inevitable. It is the type of contact, and when the contact is made, that leads to the penalty call. This can still confuse the average fan, and the official ruling will be explained further in this article. 

What Is The Pass Interference Rule?

Pass interference is when a player (offense or defense) makes illegal contact with the opposition while trying to make a catch. Many actions fall under illegal contact, such as pulling, holding, and grabbing. 

Sometimes, incidental contact will occur. However, a penalty flag will be thrown because the ref believes the contact altered the opposition’s ability to catch the football. Incidental contact, however, does not fall under the category of illegal contact, leaving it up to the referee’s discretion to determine the contact’s severity. 

The opposite will also happen where illegal contact is made, and the refs deem the play legal. Because the penalty is mostly opinionated, it can lead to controversial calls and even be the deciding factor in a game. 

Defensive Pass Interference 

Defensive pass interference is very similar to offensive pass interference, as it can only occur after the quarterback throws the ball. It is only a foul if contact with the opposing player occurs one yard or more past the line of scrimmage. 

The main difference, however, is the frequency of calls that occur. Defensive PI occurs a lot more than offensive pass interference because defenders are focused on doing anything they can to prevent the receiver from catching the ball, which can lead to illegal contact. 

On the other hand, receivers do not pay much attention to making contact with the defender and focus solely on catching the ball, resulting in offensive pass interference being a relatively rare call. 

Offensive Pass Interference 

The less common form of pass interference in football is offensive pass interference. This penalty occurs when an offensive player makes contact with an opposing player more than a yard past the line of scrimmage after the quarterback throws the ball. 

Because of the game’s intensity, this ruling is in place to allow the players to make some sort of contact before the ball is released from the quarterback. This results in receivers shielding off defenders down the field until the ball is thrown when they must let go or a flag for offensive PI is thrown. 

This ruling also prevents receivers from going out of their way while running a route to push off a defensive player, taking them out of the play. This action would result in a personal foul. 

What Is The Penalty For Pass Interference? 

Another difference between offensive and defensive pass interference is the penalties. Although it varies depending on the league, the penalty is pretty straightforward. In the NFL and CFL, it is 10 yards from the previous spot, while in amateur Canadian football, the penalty is 15 yards. Defensive pass interference, on the other hand, is a spot foul.

This means that if the quarterback throws a 50-yard pass to the opponent’s 20-yard line, and the ref deems illegal contact was made by the defensive back, then the offense will essentially get the ball on the 20-yard line resulting in a 50-yard penalty. This is only the case in the NFL, though, as the penalty in college football is 15-yards no matter what. 

If the same scenario occurs in college, no “50-yard penalty” will be rewarded, just a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Another difference between NFL and college defensive PI is if the infraction occurs in the end zone.

In the NFL, this would result in the ball being placed at the one-yard line for the next play, leading to some wild finishes over the years. Whereas in college, a similar rule is in a place where the ball gets placed at the 2-yard line; however, this is only for passes attempted between the two and 17-yard lines. 

The Controversy Around Pass Interference 

As mentioned, the penalty is one of the most controversial in football, if not all professional sports. This is because it is entirely based on the referee’s judgment, and sometimes, the referee cannot see the play clearly, or even if they do, the play is still called incorrectly due to the one opinion of the ref. 

Pass interference calls have gotten so egregious in recent years that the league implemented a rule where coaches can challenge the play to either a) reverse the call on the field or b) correct the no-call for pass interference. Although this rule was in place, it did not help the controversy. Referees are unwilling to change their minds after reviewing the play, as Jon Gruden went 0-4 on pass interference challenges a few seasons ago. 

Players, coaches, analysts, and fans have noticed that the pass interference calls have gotten to a point where a rule change is needed, as the inconsistency is too much to handle.

Giant Missed Interference Call In The Playoffs 

One of the most controversial no-calls ever occurred in the 2018 NFC Championship game. Tied 20-20 with under two minutes to play, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was looking to send the Saints to just their second Super Bowl in franchise history. 

The Saints were close to reaching their goal with the ball on the 13-yard line. That is until a phantom no-call sent the Rams to the Super Bowl instead. With 1:49 left to play, Brees stepped back and fired a pass to Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis, only for Lewis to get drilled by Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman. 

This play was a blatant penalty for anyone watching the game, except for the only people whose opinion mattered: The referees. They decided that no illegal contact was made, despite Lewis getting practically thrown without ever coming in contact with the football. 

Because of this call, the Saints were forced to kick a field goal, to which the Rams responded with one of their own, sending the game to overtime. The Rams won it in the extra period, leaving the Saints on the negative end of one of the most controversial calls in NFL history. 

Conclusion: Pass Interference In Football

Pass interference sounds like a simple rule. If you make illegal contact with the opponent when the ball is coming your way, it’s pass interference. However, this simplicity could not be further from the truth. The size of each athlete guarantees contact at each play, making it hard to determine what is illegal or not. 

Football fans of all levels have noticed increased questionable calls throughout the last few years. The current rule makes it so the call is entirely based on the opinion of the ref, which is just asking for controversy as one ref may have a different view than the other. It only takes one flag to make the call and change the course of the game. 

No-calls have also arisen, prompting fans to demand a rule clarification as pass interference penalties are some of the most inconsistent of all sports.