Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Palpably unfair act

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Palpably unfair acts – Quirky Research

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In American football, an unfair act is a foul that can be called when a player or team commits a flagrant and obviously illegal act that has a major impact on the game.


All of the major American football codes include some form of unfair act rule. In all cases, the definition is deliberately vague, giving the officials great latitude in defining such an act and enforcing penalties for such acts; officials are allowed to award any penalty, up to and including forfeiture of the game. The National Federation of State High School Associations, however, also includes the general rule that all acts are legal unless otherwise explicitly stated; thus, the unfair act rule is only invoked in cases when specific rules have clearly been broken, but the penalty for the foul itself would still be less than the result of the play had the unfair act not occurred.

The National Football League defines two types of unfair acts, a palpably unfair act and an extraordinarily unfair act. The latter is for acts so extraordinary that the NFL Commissioner can levy fines, draft forfeiture, or suspension. The Commissioner could also reverse the game results, but this has never occurred.


Palpably unfair act Palpably unfair act

An example of an unfair act would be a player coming off the sideline, during the play, to stop an opponent who is on a breakaway and would score a touchdown without the interference. The 15-yard penalty for illegal participation would still be preferable, from the violator's standpoint, to giving up a touchdown. The unfair act rule allows the official to award the touchdown anyway.

The NFL's rule on deliberate fouls is open-ended but covers only "successive or repeated fouls to prevent a score." It would only be a palpably unfair act for the defense to commit deliberate fouls, preferring the certainty of a small penalty over the uncertainty of a score attempt, if the defense did so again after an official's warning. On November 6, 2016, near the end of the first half, the San Francisco 49ers deliberately held pass receivers, forcing the New Orleans Saints to settle for a short field goal. The NFL instructed its officials that this would be a palpably unfair act subject to a 15-yard penalty if repeated. On November 27, 2016, the Baltimore Ravens took a safety, conceding 2 points of their 5-point lead. They committed numerous holding penalties to ensure that they could exhaust the final 11 seconds of the game. This was not a palpably unfair act because it did not recur (and was not done "to prevent a score" but in fact while conceding points).

The high school rulebook specifies one situation to be penalized as an unfair act: when the defensive team makes repeated fouls near its own goal line, for which the regular penalty (advancing the ball half the distance to the goal) is trivial.


Palpably unfair act Wikipedia