15 Crazy Sports Rules That Make You Scratch Your Head
When you first start out playing a sport, the first things you learn are the rules. You can’t just run with the basketball, you have to dribble. You can’t use your hands in soccer. You can’t tackle the quarterback too hard in the NFL (sigh). Rules aren’t always the most fun things to talk about, but they are necessary. Otherwise, every game would look like a pickup game.
All of the aforementioned rules are ones that both players and fans know about. But there are many rules that people are completely unaware of. Every so often, a unique sports rule will pop up and have people scratching their heads. We want to bring those rules to the light of day.
Here are 15 of the craziest sports rules that you never knew existed.
Baseball: The Fair Foul Ball
They say you see something new in baseball every day, and this is something that would leave many players, coaches and fans dumbfounded. Per MLB rule 2.00, a ball hit up the middle that strikes the pitching rubber and then bounces into foul territory is a foul ball. Seriously.
As long as the pitcher or no other fielder touches the ball, it’s considered a foul if it rebounds into foul play.
What makes this rule even odder is that if a batted ball hits a base (which is also in fair territory) but then ricochets into foul territory, that ball is then considered fair.
Basketball: Staying in the Game After Fouling Out
When can a player still play after fouling out of an NBA game? If the team doesn’t have five able-bodied players due to injury or ejection, then any player who fouls out can stay in a game with each subsequent personal foul also being a technical foul.
In other words, if a single player stayed in a game and committed eight personal fouls, then his team would have also been assessed three technical fouls — one for the sixth, seventh and eighth personal fouls.
In college basketball, you can’t play with more than five fouls, and teams would be reduced to four players on the court in this instance.
Football: Fair-Catch Kick
This rule is present in the NFL and high school football, but not college football for some reason. As the name of it states, once a player makes a fair catch, then his team gets the option to attempt a field goal from the exact spot where the catch was made. It is Article 10.2.4 (a) in the NFL rulebook.
There are a couple of changes in this field goal attempt compared to a regular one as the defense must be at least 10 yards from the spot of the kick, and there is no snap — only a hold by the holder.
You rarely ever see this play enacted because most teams either try to move the ball downfield after a fair catch, or elect for a Hail Mary attempt from 65-plus yards rather than a field goal attempt.
The last conversion of the free-catch kick came in 1976 on a 45-yard attempt by Ray Wersching of the Chargers.
Tennis: Hat Hindrance
Tennis has a hindrance rule that means if there is some sort of unintentional distraction by one player in the middle of a point, then the other player can request to have the point replayed. An unintentional distraction could be a player’s hat falling off or a ball falling out of a pocket mid-play.
A deliberate distraction such as a player purposely taking off their hat during the middle of a point would result in a point by his or her opponent.
Andy Murray fell victim of the unintentional hat hindrance when he lost his lid during the 2012 U.S. Open in a match versus Tomas Berdych. Even though Berdych clearly wasn’t going to get to a ball, he says he was hindered by Murray’s hat falling off in the middle of play and the point was restarted.
Basketball: Shattering a Backboard
If you’ve ever seen NBA players like Amar’e Stoudemire or Kenyon Martin dunk as hard as humanly possible, it may be because they were unaware that shattering a backboard would result in a technical foul.
The rule was put in place after the NBA added stability to their backboards following the 1992-93 season (aka Shaq’s rookie season when he broke two backboards). With this added stability, the NBA’s opinion is that a backboard would shatter only if a player tried to shatter it.
A broken backboard in today’s NBA would result in another somewhat-unknown rule: the unsportsmanlike conduct technical foul, which doesn’t count toward a player getting ejected.
Football: Out of Bounds Kickoff
Many fans (especially those who have played the Madden video game) are likely aware that a kickoff that goes out of bounds results in the receiving team getting the ball at their 40-yard line. But you may not be aware that the ball doesn’t have to technically go out of bounds for this rule to be enacted.
A player can be standing out of bounds and touch the football while it’s in bounds as Ty Montgomery of the Packers once did in a game in 2016. Since Montgomery was out of bounds and in possession of the ball, then the ball is ruled out of bounds as well and a penalty was thrown.
Who will exploit this NFL rule next?
Baseball: Ambidextrous Pitchers
This is also known as the “Pat Venditte Rule” and named after the only switch pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Venditte can throw with both arms, but he has to declare which arm he will use before each at-bat. He can switch arms from batter to batter, or even the same batter in different plate appearances, but he can’t use both arms within the same plate appearance.
This prevents switch-hitters from also switching from side-to-side to get a favorable matchup while Venditte also would be switching from arm to arm.
In order to wear a glove on both hands throughout a game, Venditte has a special six-fingered glove to accommodate his unique situation.
Golf: Giving Tips to Other Players
Anytime I see two golfers walking down a fairway side-by-side, I always wonder what they’re chatting about. I know what they are not talking about, and that’s golf strategy as that is forbidden by the game’s rules.
Competing golfers can’t talk to each other about rules, shot distance, potential hazards or anything that could influence play.
Golfers can, of course, ask their caddie for information but asking a fellow golfer would result in a two-stroke penalty.
Fortunately, fans can no longer “call in” to tournament officials if they believe golfers are violating this rule, or any others, as they could do in the past, since the game’s governing bodies no longer accept input from armchair officials.
Football: No Back-to-Back Timeouts
Freezing the kicker with a timeout has become about as common as Odell Beckham Jr. making a scene. But what you never see is a team burning all of its timeouts before a big kick as rules prohibit a team from using consecutive timeouts within the same dead ball period.
It doesn’t result in a penalty if a team tries to go back-to-back, but referees are instructed to not allow the second timeout.
However, that could be an effective strategy for the defense as they could call one timeout, and then signal for a second knowing the ref won’t grant it. If the kicker is unaware of the rule, then he could believe another timeout is coming, and that could cause a delay of game or affect his kick.
Hockey: Pulling the Goalie in Overtime
Pulling the goalie is one of the most exciting plays in hockey and often results in goals being scored in either net. But it is usually only used at the end of regulation as a team attempts to even the score.
In overtime, rules are a bit different, and the NHL actually penalizes teams for pulling the goalie.
If a team does pull its goalie in overtime, and they subsequently lose from the opposing team scoring in their empty net, then the losing team doesn’t receive the one point it would otherwise get in an overtime loss.
Teams still have the right to use this tactic in overtime, but the result is all or nothing: either two points for the win or zero for the loss as they’ll lose the one point for an overtime loss.
Australian Rules Football: Too Many Men
You are likely aware that too many men in American football results in a 5-yard penalty, but the punitive damage is much worse for our Australian counterparts.
For Australian rules football, the team captain can request the umpire issue a head count to determine if there are too many players on the field. If a team is found to have more than allowable, then their entire score up to that point is wiped away.
Imagine if an NFL team was leading 30-3, but they then got caught with 12 men on the field and, suddenly, they were trailing 3-0.
Baseball: Ball Stuck in Umpire’s Gear
This rule also applies to the catcher’s gear. Any pitch that gets lodged in a mask, chest guard (poor Yadier Molina) or anywhere else on an ump’s or catcher’s gear results in a dead ball, and all base runners advance one base, similarly to a throw going into the stands.
The pitch can get lodged there via bouncing from the dirt or due to a passed ball, in which case it would only get stuck on the ump.
A foul ball that gets stuck is just a foul ball. If there is no one on base and the result is not strike three or ball four, then it is just a dead ball, and the pitch stands as called.
Basketball: No Zeros and Double-Zeros on Same Team
Some great players have worn No. 0 such as Russell Westbrook, and many great players have worn No. 00 such as Robert Parish. Yet no players on the same team are allowed to wear both of those numbers for convenience.
When a foul is committed, referees signal to the scorer’s table the number of the player who committed the foul, and it would apparently be too difficult to separate 0 from 00 when signaling the number.
It seems like a rather easy situation to avoid by signaling with either one hand or two hands, but this is the way it is for both the NBA and NCAA.
NFL: Owners Can’t Have Franchises in Other Markets
In 2010 Stan Kroenke, who owned the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, then bought the St. Louis Rams. However, in order to comply with NFL rules, Kroenke had to give up ownership of the Nuggets and Avalanche and turned over control of them to his son.
Why so? Because the NFL wouldn’t allow him to own a franchise in one city (St. Louis) while also owning pro sports franchises in other NFL markets (Denver, home of the Broncos).
NFL owners can own pro franchises in non-NFL markets (such as the late Seahawks owner, Paul Allen, also owning the Portland Trail Blazers) but were the Blazers to relocate to, say, Kansas City, then Allen would have had to give up his stake.
The Disaster Draft
While many rules in this list seem somewhat fun and would be interesting to see in reality, no one wants to see the disaster draft. It is a disaster recovery plan used for every sports league in the unfortunate event that many players on a team are killed or disabled.
The general procedure for this draft somewhat resembles expansion drafts that we’ve seen over the years when leagues add new teams.
Teams would protect a certain number of players on their squad while the debilitated team would then select players not protected to fill out their roster.
Fortunately, the disaster draft has yet to be implemented in the Big 4 American sports leagues.