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DPI - Defensive Pass Interference
"ALL SEVEN of the aspects of the definition before the call is made." (Editor's Note: NCAA Rules)
Defensive pass interference is one of the toughest calls in football. It seems the rules have been written to favor the offense and make it tougher on the defense. To have a sporting chance the defensive player must be assured that the official has observed ALL SEVEN of the aspects of the definition before the call is made.
These seven aspects are:
  • Obvious CONTACT by team B player beyond the neutral zone
  • Pass is a LEGAL forward pass
  • Pass CROSSES the neutral zone
  • Team B makes an obvious attempt to IMPEDE an ELIGIBLE receiver
  • Contact occurs while the ball is IN THE AIR
  • Pass must be UNTOUCHED prior to the contact
  • Must be a CATCHABLE pass by the receiver who is contacted
Let's look then at some things that are not defensive pass interference! "Face-guarding" which we hear asked for many times, fails under the contact section of the definition. Waving fingers near the eyes of an opponent can be penalized under another section of the rules, but it is not pass interference. If there is no contact with the pass receiver, there is no pass interference by the defender. If the pass is the second forward pass thrown during a down or is thrown after the passer has crossed the neutral zone, there can be no defensive pass interference because the pass is not a legal forward pass. DPI is also not an appropriate call if the pass is backward. Coaches and fans sometimes yell for pass interference on screen passes completed behind the line of scrimmage.
Although there is generally more concern about offensive blocking in this instance, if the ball fails to cross the line of scrimmage contact is neither offensive nor defensive pass interference. Two circumstances which will bring fans out of their seats are collisions between two players going for the ball and players getting their feet entangled as they run stride for stride in the pass pattern. Neither of these should be ruled DPI because the obvious intent to impede part of the definition, has not been satisfied. The most difficult contact upon which to rule is when the defender is behind the receiver and jumps into him. Ruling intent in this case is tough. Did the defender intentionally dislodge the receiver or was the contact a by-product of attempting to catch the ball? Every case is different, but a general rule of thumb is to observe the stance of the receiver when the ball arrives. If he is in position and has his hands free to catch the ball, it's probably not DPI.
The official ruling on interference must also remember that blocking a receiver with legal contact is permitted until the pass is thrown. There are certain rule restrictions upon what is or is not legal contact in this case, but for the purpose of ruling DPI, the only question is whether or not the ball was in the air when the contact occurred. If the contact is before the ball is thrown and there is no later contact, pass interference is not the call. If the ball is touched by any player on its way to the receiver, forget about pass interference. The official who is concentrating on the receiver may sometimes require help from another official in this situation and may be required to wave off a flag. Again, some other rules regarding contact may apply but none will satisfy the definition for DPI. Finally, and the most controversial for judgement, the pass must be catchable by the receiver who is contacted. "Catchable" means the player must have a reasonable opportunity to get to the football. Can he get to the ball with room to get one foot down in bounds? Can he possibly jump high enough if it is over his head? Is he moving in the direction of the pass? Can an extra burst of speed get him there? Has he been held enough that he could have covered the distance had he not been held?
All of these considerations must be made in a split second. Does the flag go down or is it a "wave over the head?" Keep in mind that if there is doubt, the pass was catchable. All seven aspects are necessary for the calling of a foul, but even more importantly the presence of advantage and influence must be considered. Did the defense allow the receiver a reasonable opportunity to catch the before calling interference? It is never interference if one of the seven requirements is missing and as we've seen above, there are even some instances when withholding the flag is justified even if all seven are present.
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