Intentional grounding is a penalty in American football when the quarterback purposely throws an incomplete pass. The penalty varies depending on the rules used, but usually involves a loss of down and/or yards. There are exceptions, such as when the quarterback spikes the ball to stop the clock or throws the ball away while in certain areas of the field. The penalty is not called if the pass is significantly affected by the defense or if there is an eligible receiver near where the ball comes to rest.
Intentional groundback is a rule infraction in American football that is called under certain circumstances when the quarterback purposely throws an incomplete pass. The specific circumstances in which intentional grounding is called and the penalty for doing so vary depending on the rules used. In the National Football League (NFL), for example, the penalty is usually for the ball to be pitched 10 yards (9.14 m) behind the previous line of scrimmage and a loss of a down. The penalty in college football is usually a loss of down and the ball is fielded at the spot of the foul. In high school football, the penalty is usually the ball being planted 5 yards (4.57 m) behind the spot of the foul and a loss of a down.
In some circumstances, the penalty for this infraction may be more severe. In the NFL, if the quarterback is more than 10 yards (9.14 m) behind the line of scrimmage when he intentionally grounds the ball, the penalty is a loss of down and the ball is fielded at the spot of the foul, rather than a penalty of only 10 yards (9.14 m). Under the rules used at most levels of football, if the quarterback is in the offensive team’s end zone when the pass is thrown, it is a two-point safety for the other team.
Spike the ball is allowed
There are specific circumstances in which it is legal for the quarterback to intentionally throw an incomplete pass. The most obvious is when the quarterback “smacks” the ball – throws it directly to the ground – to stop the clock. This typically must be done immediately after a quarterback receives a direct, melee snap from the center. If the quarterback has not received a melee snap, as in what is called a shotgun formation; if the quarterback misses the snap; if the quarterback delays before dunking the ball; or if the pass hits another player before hitting the ground, the spike is illegal and should be called intentional grounding.
Other exceptions to the rule
The other situations in which intentionally throwing an incomplete pass is allowed depend on the rules used. In the NFL, for example, if the quarterback is in the area behind the line of scrimmage and between offensive tackles, and if he is in no danger of being tackled by a defensive player, he is allowed to throw the ball away. Also, if the quarterback runs both sides of the field outside the offensive tackles, he is also allowed to throw the ball away, as long as the pass lands near or beyond the line of scrimmage. However, this exception does not exist in high school football: Regardless of where the quarterback is located, the pass must be thrown near an eligible receiver or is intentional grounding.
In most cases, if there is an eligible receiver near where the ball comes to rest, it is not an intentional grounding. In high school football, however, the catcher must also have a reasonable chance of catching the ball. If not, the officials must determine whether the quarterback purposely threw an elusive pass or simply an inaccurate pass. For example, if the quarterback is not under pressure from the defense and throws a very short pass that hits the ground well before he gets close to the intended receiver, officials could call it intentional grounding. Conversely, if the game is played in pouring rain and the quarterback is running while throwing—two circumstances that could affect the quarterback’s ability to catch the ball and throw accurately—an inaccurate short pass might not be called an intentional groundback.
When the quarterback’s pass is significantly affected by the defense, this penalty is typically not called. If the quarterback’s arm is hit while the ball is being thrown, for example, the pass may not go where it’s supposed to go, so it would be difficult for officials to know if the quarterback threw an incomplete pass on purpose. If the ball is tipped or deflected off a fielder, intentional grounding is not called.