An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the NFL and college football is a non-contact foul. It occurs when a player goes against the general rules of sportsmanship—usually occurring during moments of intense passion or frustration in the game. This penalty can be a game-changer because the other team receives a 15-yard penalty, and the player who commits the foul might even serve a game suspension and receive a financial penalty.
So, what is the penalty for this type of conduct during a football game? What are some examples of unsportsmanlike conduct? How often does this penalty occur for teams during the NFL regular season? Can unsportsmanlike conduct take away a touchdown? What is the difference between personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct, and does the NFL allow taunting?
Below we will discuss the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and its impact on American football.
What is the Penalty for Unsportsmanlike Conduct in Football?
In American football, the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct is a 15-yard penalty. The 15 yards would be applied to the ensuing kickoff if this foul occurred after a scoring play.
Under the unsportsmanlike conduct rule, a player or coach might also receive an ejection from the game after one of these calls. For example, a player or coach showing aggression to officials or other players can receive an ejection from the match.
Finally, a player receives a financial fine that they have to pay after this penalty in the NFL. According to Boardroom, the first offense gets a $13,261 penalty, while the second is $18,566.
What are Some Examples of Unsportsmanlike Conduct?
Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties can occur after any number of infractions. Some of the more common examples of when a player could get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct are when a player is aggressively arguing with a game official, taunting of any degree, excessive celebration, or baiting. Other examples can include players being overly aggressive with each other.
For example, a linebacker charges into a lineman during the play to get a tackle. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would occur if the lineman were to hold onto the linebacker and drag them to the ground well after the ball had already left the line of scrimmage.
Head coaches can also receive unsportsmanlike penalties during a game. One way they can receive this penalty is if they become overly aggressive with the referees after a call. Another example of when they can receive this penalty is taunting an opposing player.
How Often Do Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalties Occur in an NFL Regular Season?
According to NFLpenalties.com, there were 1.31 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties per team during the 2021 season. The four teams that led the league that season were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, and Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, ten teams during that season did not yield this penalty.
During the 2019 season, according to NFLpenalties.com, there were an average of 1.22 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties per team. The Buffalo Bills led the league that season with four of these penalties.
Can Unsportsmanlike Conduct Take Away a Touchdown?
In college football, if an unsportsmanlike penalty occurs after a team score a touchdown, the touchdown is rescinded, and the offense team starts from 15 yards back.
However, in the NFL, the same rule does not apply. Instead, if an unsportsmanlike penalty gets called, the touchdown will stand, but the opposing team will have the option of enforcing the 15-yard penalty on either the kickoff or the extra point.
Does the NFL Allow Taunting?
Per the official rules of the NFL, taunting is not allowed. As with any game, there can be back-and-forth banter between two or more players, but if the language is deemed excessive or if one player is baiting another player, they could get called taunting, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. Taunting can also fall under an unsportsmanlike penalty, but it is up to the ref to decide which penalty to call.
Like in the NFL, college football does not allow taunting during games. For example, during a game between Harvard and Yale, the touchdown was removed due to taunting. There was some taunting as one of the players got near the end zone, so the referees took that touchdown away.
What is the Difference Between a Personal Foul and Unsportsmanlike Conduct in Football?
The contrast between a personal and unsportsmanlike foul is that an unsportsmanlike foul is a non-contact foul. Once a player/coach makes physical contact with a player or game official, it becomes a personal foul.
Another way to classify a personal foul is personal fouls occur when the refs decide that one player was putting the other player at risk of injury. While an unsportsmanlike penalty, as the name suggests, is simply being too rough or going overboard with their conduct without putting anyone’s safety at risk.
Conclusion: What is Unsportsmanlike Conduct in Football?
The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is one rule that maintains some sense of professionalism in a game. Players getting out of line or committing an unfair act can lead to an unsportsmanlike call, resulting in a 15-yard penalty or an ejection if it happens twice to the same player. It can come from taunting your opposing team to yelling extensively at a referee during a game.
While unsportsmanlike conduct receives a penalty during a game, it is different than a personal foul. A personal foul occurs when a player is putting the other player in harm’s way, while an unsportsmanlike penalty is simply a player being unprofessional.
Finally, unsportsmanlike conduct calls in college football add the removal of a touchdown if that occurs during that play. For example, a game between Harvard and Yale had some taunting as a player approached the endzone. What initially went in as a touchdown was reversed since the referees saw the taunting with the offensive player.
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