Palpably unfair act

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In American football, an unfair act is a foul that can be called when a player or team commits a flagrant and obviously illegal act that has a major impact on the game.

All of the major American football codes include some form of unfair act rule. In all cases, the definition is deliberately vague, giving the officials great latitude in defining such an act and enforcing penalties for such acts; officials are allowed to award any penalty, up to and including forfeiture of the game. The National Federation of State High School Associations, however, also includes the general rule that all acts are legal unless otherwise explicitly stated; thus, the unfair act rule is only invoked in cases when specific rules have clearly been broken, but the penalty for the foul itself would still be less than the result of the play had the unfair act not occurred. (One example would include a player coming off the sideline, during the play, to stop an opponent who is on a breakaway and would score a touchdown without the offending player interfering; the 15-yard penalty for illegal participation would still leave enough of a benefit for the player to commit the act, as the opposing team would still not score. The unfair act rule thus allows the official to award the score anyway. Another would be the literal act of moving the goalposts.)

The high school rulebook includes one explicit situation where the unfair act is to be used: if a defensive team makes repeated fouls near their own goal line that halve the distance to the goal, the unfair act rule is to be applied.

The National Football League defines two types of unfair acts, a palpably unfair act and an extraordinarily unfair act. The latter is for acts so extraordinary that the NFL Commissioner can levy fines, draft forfeiture, suspension, or reversal of the game results (the last of which has never occurred in league history).

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