Illegal touching in football is a penalty that can be called when a receiver steps out of bounds and fails to re-establish himself in bounds OR when a player on the kickoff team touches the ball before it travels ten yards.
Illegal touching of a forward pass
Calling this penalty on forward passes is the more common of the two illegal touching penalties.
Illegal touching on a forward pass occurs when a receiver is forced out of bounds and then touches the ball before re-establishing himself OR if a receiver travels out of bounds voluntarily and then catches the ball.
Illegal touching of a forward pass is also called if an ineligible receiver catches or touches the ball on a forward pass.
If a receiver is forced out of bounds they have an opportunity to come back in bounds and re-establish themselves with both feet or any part of the body other than the hands. The receiver must come back in bounds immediately after being forced out.
This rule is put in place so that receivers are not able to continue running outside of the playing surface once they are pushed out of bounds.
Additionally illegal touching of a forward pass can be called if the receiver voluntarily goes out of bounds. Say for example a receiver accidentally takes a few steps off of the field while running his route.
So long as it was his fault he went out of bounds he will no longer be able to catch a pass on this play. Even if the player is able to establish himself inbounds he cannot legally catch the ball as he travelled out of bounds voluntarily.
The outcome of an illegal touching of a forward pass penalty in which a receiver travels out of bounds is a loss of down at the previous spot.
Illegal touching of a forward pass by an ineligible receiver
Illegal touching of a forward pass called for an ineligible receiver catching the ball is another reason a team may be assessed this penalty.
If a player lines up on the line of scrimmage but is not on either end of the line they are an ineligible receiver. This means the majority of offensive linemen are not eligible receivers.
If one of these interior linemen catches a pass they will be assessed an illegal touching of a forward pass penalty.
The outcome of an Illegal touching of a forward pass due to an illegible receiver is a loss of five yards at the previous spot.
Illegal touching on kick
On top of illegal touching on a forward pass, this penalty can also be assessed on kickoffs. On a kickoff, the kicking team must allow the ball to travel ten yards before they can touch it unless a player on the opposing team touches it first.
If a player on the kickoff team touches the ball within these tens yards without anyone on the opposing team touching it he will be given an illegal touching penalty.
When this penalty is assessed, the team receiving the kick will get possession of the ball at the location the foul occurred or the location they recovered the ball with five penalty yards added on.
If a player on the receiving team touches the ball in this ten-yard area then the kicking team is able to touch it as well without receiving an illegal touching penalty.
I hope you enjoyed our guide to illegal touching penalties in football. If you are interested in other guides to penalties see our guide to illegal use of the hands or illegal leg whip.