In football, leaping penalties occur when a defensive player illegally jumps over the top of an offensive lineman to prevent a field goal or punt attempt.
In the NFL, leaping penalties are called differently. The NFL is more lenient, allowing players to run forward and leap as long as they do not touch opponents or cross the line of scrimmage.
There is no rule against players leaping across or through gaps between themselves.
For more information about other football penalties besides tripping, see our explanations of targeting in the NFL and college football.
The NFL’s Leaping Penalties
If a player jumps during a game in the NFL, he will be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, which results in a gain of fifteen yards for the offense.
A leaping penalty will be called in the NFL if a player jumps over the offensive line and crosses the line of scrimmage. This is in an obvious attempt to block the kick.
A leaping penalty will be called regardless of whether the leaping player lands on anyone or avoids contact.
A leaping penalty will not be called if the player was stationary and within one yard of the line of scrimmage. This is because the player does not contact anyone and does not cross the line of scrimmage.
Leaping Penalties in the NCAA
Leap penalties in college football are quite similar to the NFL though there are a few differences.
As in the NFL, committing a leaping penalty results in a fifteen yard penalty and an automatic first down.
The NCAA prohibits a defensive player from jumping over an offensive lineman on a field goal or punt.
When a player jumps straight up to block a kick or punt, the penalty will not be called.
A defensive player who jumps over or across the gap between two players will not be considered to be leaping.
As with sideline warnings in college football, leaping penalties are only called occasionally.
What is the Purpose of Leaping Penalties?
Players’ safety prevents defensive players jumping over the line on field goals.
Multiple players will be put in danger if a player hurdles over the line. If the defensive player does not clear the line, he may fall from a high height and possibly injure himself.
In order to block for a field goal or punt, the offensive lineman must hit the player taking a running start and jumping with some serious force.
It can be very painful for this player to land directly on one of these linemen.
Therefore, the NCAA rulebook specifically mentions rules regarding jumping over offensive players.
As long as no player was contacted, NCAA and NFL leaping penalties allowed hurdling the line.
The play was safe, but many players attempted and failed leaps over the line, indicating the danger still existed.
This change almost made it impossible to leap to block field goals.
If you want to learn more about the leaping penalty in football, see our guides on roughing the kicker and hurdles.