NFL/NCAAF Rules on punts

Is the ball dead as soon as it crosses the plane of the goal line if untouched by the receiving team?

In other words, can a receiving team player pick up a punted ball in the endzone and return it? Can they catch the ball in the endzone and try to run it out?

If the receiving team touches the ball in the endzone, can the kicking team then recover it?

I’m not as familiar with the NCAA rules, but this is how I understand it, for the NFL:

A punt is still a live ball, even if it crosses the goal line. It’s the act of the ball being downed by the punting team (if the receiving team hasn’t touched it) that ends the play:

“Defensive team may advance all kicks from scrimmage (including unsuccessful field goal) whether or not ball crosses defensive team’s goal line.” From here: http://www.nfl.com/rulebook/kicksfromscrimmage

Once the receiving team touches the ball, the kicking team can attempt to recover it. If the receiving team hasn’t actually established possession (that is, if the returner touches the ball, but doesn’t actually catch it / control it), it’s considered a “muff” rather than a fumble – the kicking team can recover a muffed punt, but can’t advance it. Thus, if a muffed punt winds up in the end zone, and the kicking team recovers it there, I’m fairly sure that this’d be a touchdown.

This is likely a big part of the reason why punt returners are generally instructed to not even try to field a punt that’s landing inside the 10 yard line.

There’s also the case where the punted ball has crossed the goal line, but not yet touched the ground in the end zone, and a member of the punting team will try to bat the ball out of the end zone. That player can’t have his feet in the end zone, so he’ll jump or lean and try to bat the ball back as he falls into the end zone. If he can do it, and another teammate downs the ball, the receiving team takes possession at that spot rather than getting a touchback. It doesn’t happen often; conditions have to be just right.

It might be interesting to read how that’s explained in the rule book. It’s hard to describe in words, but you know it when you see it.

The ball is in play until it either touches the ground in the end zone, or touches a player of the kicking team in the end zone. A ball caught in the air by the receiving team can be run out - this happened in the 2013 Auburn-Alabama game (yes, that was a missed field goal, but the same rules apply).

There was a time in NCAA where, if someone on the kicking team touched it in the end zone and batted it back across the goal line, it was still a live ball, but it was a penalty for “illegal touching”; the receiving team had the choice of a touchback or taking the ball where the play ended (in case a receiving team player received the ball and then ran it past the 20-yard line).

This stems from the Oregon Ducks game this weekend. A member of the receiving team may or may not have touched a punted ball as it was coming down outside the endzone. The ball rolled towards the endzone and the receiver followed after it. The ball rolled into the endzone and bounced a couple of times within the endzone and then bounced up and hit the receiver in the chest. The punting team recovered. There was a long delay trying to figure out of the receiver touched the ball before it went into the endzone. I couldn’t figure out the dilemma if the ball is live once the receiver touches it in the endzone.

If the ball is live if an offensive player touches it in the endzone, it wouldn’t matter if he touched it earlier or not. But since it mattered, my only thought was that the ball was dead in the endzone unless he touched it earlier.

I think that this may also be a case where the rules are different in college and the pros, if That Don Guy is correct. In the NFL, if a punted ball lands in the end zone, untouched by either team, it’s still a live ball, AFAICT (though, in 99+% of the occasions, it’d wind up being a touchback, because the receiving team would be staying far away from it).

But, it sounds like, in college, that’d be a dead ball, unless it had been touched by a member of the receiving team before hitting the ground in the end zone.

I stand corrected - that is still the rule in college; if a punt breaks the plane of the goal line and a kicking team player touches it before either the player or the ball touches the ground, the receiving team has the choice of a touchback or taking the result of the play. It is only if the kicking team player gets possession of the ball once it breaks the plane is the ball dead immediately.

Also, if I am reading the rules right, if a receiving team player touches the ball before it touches the ground in the end zone, and it then lands in the end zone, the kicking team can recover it for a touchdown. Remember that the kicking team cannot advance a recovered ball unless a receiving team player had possession (and then fumbled) first.

However, the 2013 NFL rules are clear; a punt that lands in the end zone before being touched by a receiving team player is dead, and an automatic touchback.

Do you have a rules cite for that? It seems at odds with the rule I posted above, which was directly from the NFL’s site.

How about this?

from NFL rulebook

[Rule 9] SECTION 4 BALL CROSSES GOAL LINE, TOUCHES GOAL POSTS, OUT OF BOUNDS, DEAD IN FIELD OF PLAY
ARTICLE 1. BALL CROSSES RECEIVERS’ GOAL LINE. If a scrimmage kick crosses the receiver’s goal line from the impetus of the kick, the following shall apply:
(a) If the ball has not been touched by a player of the receiving team beyond the line of scrimmage, it is dead immediately, and the result of the play is a touchback, when:
(1) it touches the ground on or behind the receiver’s goal line

Thank you! Much more definitive than the summary I’d found earlier. I’ve learned something new today. :slight_smile:

This sounds like the key part of the question. At least in college, if the punt first touches any player on the receiving team, it is a live ball and can be recovered by either team. This is why you often see the punt returner frantically waving off his teammates.

This is true in the NFL, too (see post #2).

If a punt blocker touches the ball behind the line of scrimmage, it can only be recovered for possession by the kicking team and advanced if it has not crossed the line of scrimmage. If a punt is partially blocked and crosses the line of scrimmage, the same rules apply as if it had not been touched at all by the receiving team. It must be touched again beyond the line of scrimmage for the kicking team to take possession.