The Football Code

Football is an aggressive, rugged contact sport. Only the highest standards of sportsmanship and conduct are expected of players, coaches and others associated with the game. There is no place for unfair tactics, unsportsmanlike conduct or maneuvers deliberately designed to inflict injury. The American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Code of Ethics states: a. The Football Code shall be an integral part of this code of ethics and should be carefully read and observed. b. To gain an advantage by circumvention or disregard for the rules brands a coach or player as unfit to be associated with football. Through the years, the rules committee has endeavored by rule and appropriate penalty to prohibit all forms of unnecessary roughness, unfair tactics and unsportsmanlike conduct. But rules alone cannot accomplish this end. Only the continued best efforts of coaches, players, officials and all friends of the game can preserve the high ethical standards that the public has a right to expect in America’s foremost collegiate sport. Therefore, as a guide to players, coaches, officials and others responsible for the welfare of the game, the committee publishes the following code:

Coaching Ethics

Deliberately teaching players to violate the rules is indefensible. The coaching of intentional holding, beating the ball, illegal shifting, feigning injury, interference, illegal forward passing or intentional roughing will break down rather than aid in the building of the character of players. Such instruction is not only unfair to one’s opponent but is demoralizing to the players entrusted to a coach’s care and has no place in a game that is an integral part of an educational program. The following are unethical practices: a. Changing numbers during the game to deceive the opponent. b. Using the football helmet as a weapon. The helmet is for the protection of the player. c. Targeting and making forcible contact. Players, coaches and officials should emphasize the elimination of targeting and making forcible contact against a defenseless opponent and/or with the crown of the helmet. d. Using nontherapeutic drugs in the game of football. This is not in keeping with the aims and purposes of amateur athletics and is prohibited. e. “Beating the ball’’ by an unfair use of a starting signal. This is nothing less than deliberately stealing an advantage from the opponent. An honest starting signal is needed, but a signal that has for its purpose starting the team a fraction of a second before the ball is put in play, in the hope that it will not be detected by the officials, is illegal. It is the same as if a sprinter in a 100-meter dash had a secret arrangement with the starter to give him a tenth-of-a- second warning before firing the pistol. f. Shifting in a way that simulates the start of a play or employing any other unfair tactic for the purpose of drawing one’s opponent offside. This can be construed only as a deliberate attempt to gain an unmerited advantage. g. Feigning an injury for any reason is unethical. An injured player must be given full protection under the rules, but feigning injury is dishonest, unsportsmanlike and contrary to the spirit of the rules. Such tactics cannot be tolerated among sportsmen of integrity.

Talking to an Opponent

Talking to an opponent in any manner that is demeaning, vulgar, abusive or “trashy’’ or intended to incite a physical response or verbally put an opponent down is illegal. Coaches are urged to discuss this conduct frequently and support all officials’ actions to control it.

Talking to Officials

When an official imposes a penalty or makes a decision, he simply is doing his duty as he sees it. He is on the field to uphold the integrity of the game of football, and his decisions are final and conclusive and should be accepted by players and coaches. The AFCA Code of Ethics states: a. On- and off-the-record criticism of officials to players or to the public shall be considered unethical. b. For a coach to address, or permit anyone on his bench to address, uncomplimentary remarks to any official during the progress of a game, or to indulge in conduct that might incite players or spectators against the officials, is a violation of the rules of the game and must likewise be considered conduct unworthy of a member of the coaching profession.


Illegal use of the hand or arm is unfair play, eliminates skill and does not belong in the game. The object of the game is to advance the ball by strategy, skill and speed without illegally holding your opponent. All coaches and players should thoroughly understand the rules for proper offensive and defensive use of the hands. Holding is a frequently called penalty; it is important to emphasize the severity of the penalty.


The football player or coach who intentionally violates a rule is guilty of unfair play and unsportsmanlike conduct; and whether or not he escapes being penalized, he brings discredit to the good name of the game, which is his duty as a player or coach to uphold.


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