Have you ever watched an NFL game and heard the official state that instead of regular penalty yardage the ball will be placed half the distance to the goal? This rule which takes into account the current location of the ball often leaves many NFL fans confused.
A penalty is moved half the distance to the goal if the penalty yardage would have taken the offense more than half of the remaining distance to the endzone.
Five-yard penalty – Must be within the ten-yard line for the half the distance rule.
Ten-yard penalty – Must be within the twenty-yard line for the half the distance rule.
Fifteen-yard penalty – Must be within the thirty-yard line for the half the distance rule.
Example: Defensive Holding On The Six Yard Line
In this scenario, the offense has the ball on the six-yard line and a holding penalty is committed by the defense. A defensive holding penalty is a five-yard penalty meaning regularly the ball would be moved to the one-yard line.
Since this penalty would take them more than half of the remaining six yards to the end zone the half the distance rule will be used. Half the distance from the six-yard line is the three-yard line.
This means the offense will get to move the ball up to the three-yard line.
Example: Offensive Holding On Their Own Ten Yard Line
Many fans don’t realize that the half the distance to the goal line rule also can work in favour of the offense. Say the offense is on their own ten yard line and commits a holding penalty.
An offensive holding penalty typically moves the ball backwards ten yards. Since these ten yards would take the offense all the way back to the goal line the half the distance rule will be used.
This places the ball backwards five yards at the offense’s own five-yard line.
Why Is Half The Distance To The Goal A Rule
The reason that the half the distance to the goal rule exists on penalties is that these yardages are much more severe when close to the endzone.
An offensive holding for example sends a team back ten yards, this makes it harder to sustain the drive.
A holding call on your own ten-yard line would put your right against your own goal line. This would make it incredibly difficult to move the ball at all and also presents the opportunity for a safety.
On defense a late hit on the quarterback is going to move the ball fifteen yards down the field. If this is done within the fifteen-yard line this will put the ball right on the opponent’s goal line.
This makes the likelihood of a touchdown significantly higher as the offense only needs to pick up a single yard. Penalties aren’t meant to have this much of an impact on the game.
By using the half the distance to the goal rule penalties is not going to have as drastic an effect on the score of the game.