Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A fair catch is a play in American football and several other forms of football.
If a kick receiver sees that, in his judgement, he is unlikely to be able to advance the ball successfully after catching it, he is allowed to signal for a "fair catch" by putting an arm in the air before the ball begins its descent. After this point, if he is hit after catching the ball, the team covering the kick will be penalized fifteen yards for a "personal foul". However, if the receiver changes his mind and attempts to advance the ball after signalling for a fair catch, his team will be penalized (usually five yards for "delay of game"). A fair catch can be followed by a fair catch kick as a field goal attempt.
If the receiver "muffs" the ball (touches it but then fails to field it cleanly), then the ball can be recovered by the kicking team. The fair catch signal can be used as a legal form of deception in the following instance: If the receiver has no intention of actually fielding the ball but wishes it to roll in the end zone for a touchback, he can signal for a fair catch to delay the approach of the covering team, making them less likely to be able to cover the ball prior to its arrival in the end zone. Some fans see this as an abuse of the fair catch rule, and think that it should be amended to allow the kicking team to recover the ball at any point after it has touched the ground if a fair catch has been called for, which would force an end to this practice, but so far no rules committee has actually made this change.
Various forms of football descended from certain English school football games of the 19th Century have had a fair catch. It was abolished early in the history of soccer, then in the middle of the 20th Century by Canadian football, and slightly later by Rugby League. Forms of football retaining a form of fair catch (also called "mark") include American (outdoor), Rugby Union, and Australian Rules. The American invented intramural games speedball and speed-a-way have some of the flavor of the original fair catch, which was to allow handling of the ball in games where handling was otherwise forbidden. Australian Rules, speedball, and speed-a-way do not require that the kick be from an opponent. Only American football requires that the catcher signal in advance, as did Canadian football before that game abolished the fair catch.
In some forms of football a player fielding an opponent's kick must be given a certain space in which to do so by either some or all opponents. In Rugby Union, Rugby League, and Canadian football this applies only against members of the kicking team who are offside, and applies whether the ball is in the air, bouncing, or rolling. In Arena Football this applies against all members of the kicking team, but only while the ball is in the air.
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