One of the more impressive feats in any athletic competition is the officials’ ability to master the rule book. Often, these manuals include hundreds of pages and incredible amounts of minutiae for referees to memorize, and by and large, those in charge with keeping the peace interpret and apply them correctly. That includes off-the-wall rules, too — and of those there are many. Here’s a look at 27 of the weirdest and wildest rules in sports:
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Ball getting stuck in a mask
According to Rule 5.06(c)(7) of the MLB rulebook, “If a pitched ball lodges in the umpire’s or catcher’s mask or paraphernalia, and remains out of play, on the third strike or fourth ball, then the batter is entitled to first base and all runners advance one base. If the count on the batter is less than three balls, runners advance one base.”
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Hitting a runner who is stealing home
Though steals of home are increasingly rare, Rule 5.06(c)(8) states that all runners advance if “any legal pitch touches a runner trying to score.”
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Touching a ball with your hat
Per Rule 7.05(b), “Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance three bases, if a fielder deliberately touches a fair ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person.” A three-base penalty is also enforced “if a fielder deliberately throws his glove at and touches a fair ball.”
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Rule 8.01(f) addresses the topic of “ambidextrous pitchers,” and states that a pitcher may not switch throwing hands in the middle of an at-bat. “In the event a pitcher switches pitching hands during an at-bat because he has suffered an injury,” the rule adds, “the pitcher may not, for the remainder of the game, pitch with the hand from which he has switched.” Additionally, “The pitcher shall not be given the opportunity to throw any preparatory pitches after switching pitching hands.”
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Ricochet off the pitcher's rubber
According to rule 2.00, “A batted ball not touched by a fielder, which hits the pitcher’s rubber and rebounds into foul territory, between home and first, or between home and third base is a foul ball.”
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Left-handed polo players
Sorry, southpaws — according to the Federation of International Polorules, “players shall play with the stick in the right hand.”
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Scoring a 'rouge'
When is a punt or a missed field goal not necessarily a bad thing? In the CFL, where either could be worth a single point if the try is determined to be a “rouge.” Per CFLrules a rouge is scored when a kicked ball “touches or crosses the Dead Line or a Sideline in Goal, and touches the ground, a player or some object beyond these lines.”
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The one-point safety
In addition to your standard extra point, there’s an oddball one-point score in American football, too, and it comes in the form of a very particular safety. Section 3, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook atates that if a PAT try “results in what would ordinarily be a safety against either team, one point is awarded to the opponent.” The same rule applies in college football, as well, and while rare, it has happened in the past.
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The free kick
Once every few years in the NFL, a team will try what’s known as a fair catch kick, a legal play in which a kicker attempts an uncontested field goal from the spot where a fair catch was made. The last fair catch kick try came in 2013, when Phil Dawson of the 49ers missed a 71-yard attempt just before the half of a game against the Rams in St. Louis. The NFL hasn’t seen a successful try since 1976.
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The drop kick
Even more uncommon is the drop kick, which occurs when a player “drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground” in an attempt to make a field goal or extra point. In 2006, in his final NFL game, Doug Flutie convertedthe NFL’s only successful drop kick since 1941, putting a point on the board for the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter of a game against the Miami Dolphins.
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Too many men
Meanwhile, in Australian rules football, you’d better be sure you’ve got the right number of players on the field. Because at any time, a given team’s captain may ask the umpire to count the number of opposing players on the field, and if a team is found to have too many players on the playing surface — the maximum number is 18 per team — a free kick is awarded along with a 50-meter penalty and the offending team “shall lose all points which it has scored in the Match up to the time of the count.”
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A free kick into your own net
When is an own goal not an own goal in soccer? When it comes off a free kick. It’s difficult to figure how, exactly, this might happen, but according to FIFA’s Laws of the Game, “if a direct free kick is kicked directly into the team’s own goal, a corner kick is awarded to the opposing team.”
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Throwing a ball into the goal
Also, sorry, but FIFA rules state that “a goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in.” And if you’re wondering how long a goaltender is allowed to hold the ball in his hands, the answer is six seconds, otherwise an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team.
Golf is a treasure trove of quirky rules, and perhaps the most archaic one states that a player is disqualified in the event that he turns in a scorecard without signing it first. Additionally, if a player “returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified. If he returns a score for any hole higher than actually taken, the score as returned stands.” And as we sawwith Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration earlier this year, a player may also be penalized two strokes for an incorrect scorecard that includes a penalty a player does not know was assessed.
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When your club breaks mid-swing
Per Decisions 14/2 and 14/3 in the Decisions and Rules of Golf, a player’s club head becomes separated from the shaft of the club during a backswing, then the player completes the swing but misses the ball, the player will not be credited with a stroke. However, if the club head breaks off on the downswing and the player misses the ball, he or she is still ruled to have made a stroke. Other no-nos, according to Decision 14, include putting a ball billiards-style or putting with the handle of the club, both of which result in a lost hole (match play) or a two-stroke penalty.
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Giving tips to other players
Per USGA Rule 8-1, a player must not “give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies,” lest they incur a two-stroke penalty
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When hats fall off in tennis
In tennis, USTA rules state that, “if a player’s hat falls off during a point, an opponent may immediately call a let due to unintentional hindrance.” The same penalty may also be called for a host of other unintentional hindrances, including an extra ball falling out of a player’s pocket. That said, “A let is never authorized for a hindrance caused by something within a player’s control, such as when a player’s racket comes out of a hand, when a player’s shoe comes off, or when a player trips over the player’s own hat.”
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When it's OK to reach over the net
USTA Rule 24b states that a player loses a point if he or she “does not return the ball in play before it bounces twice consecutively.” That much is generally understood. However you may not know that the rule applies even when a ball is sliced so severely that it hits the ground and spins back over the net to the opponent’s side. In that case, a player is allowed to reach over the net and attempt to play the ball from the opposite side, but is not allowed to hurdle the net.
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When you foul out, but not really
In rare cases, a basketball player can foul out and remain in a game. NBA rules state that a team must always have five players on the court, and Rule 3, Section I specifies that, “If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly.”
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Facing the wrong way on the court
Suppose two teams take the court and are accidentally facing the wrong way when the jump ball is tossed up? If officials notice before 24 seconds have elapsed, play is stopped and the game or half starts over. “After more than 24 seconds has elapsed,” Rule 2, Section VI of the NBA rulebook states, “the teams will continue to shoot for that basket for the remainder of that half” then shoot at the opposite basket in the second half or overtime, if there is still basketball left to be played.
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Taking too long for free throws
Dwight Howard (pictured) and Giannis Antetokounmpo are among the active players who have been penalized for taking too long at the foul line. League rules state that free throws must be taken within 10 seconds of receiving the ball, or the shooter forfeits the attempt.
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A tech for breaking the rim
If a basketball player shatters a backboard or bends a rim during play, that player will be charged with a technical foul. However, if the offense happens during pregame and/or halftime warmups, no penalty is assessed.
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No throwing that stick
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but there’s still a line you can’t cross in the NHL. Per league rules, “If, when the opposing goalkeeper has been removed, a member of the defending team, including the Coach or any non-playing person, throws or shoots any part of a stick or any other object or piece of equipment at the puck or puck carrier in the neutral or his own defending zone, thereby preventing the puck carrier from having a clear shot on an “open net,” a goal shall be awarded to the attacking side.”
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Goalies have to stay in their place
Speaking of crossing lines, goalies can’t be much use on offense, even if you want them to be. Section 4, Rule 27.7 states that, “If a goalkeeper participates in the play in any manner (intentionally plays the puck or checks an opponent) when he is beyond the center red line, a minor penalty shall be imposed upon him. The position of the puck is the determining factor for the application of this rule.”
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If the refs don't show up for your hockey game ...
What happens if the referees don’t show up? In a desperate enough situation, players could just end up calling their own penalties. Section 5, Rule 31.11 of the NHL rule book says: “If, through misadventure or sickness, the Referees and Linesmen appointed are prevented from appearing, the League will make every attempt to find suitable replacement officials, otherwise the Managers or Coaches of the two Clubs shall agree on Referee(s) and Linesman(men). If they are unable to agree, they shall appoint a player from each side who shall act as Referee and Linesman; the player of the home club acting as Referee and the player of the visiting club as Linesman.” The rule notes, however, that if the refs arrive during the game, they immediately take over their usual roles.
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Pulling the goalie in overtime
You don’t often see a team pull its goalie in overtime, and for good reason — a point in the standings could be at stake. Per Section 10, Rule 84.2, “A team shall be allowed to pull its goalkeeper in favor of an additional skater in the overtime period. However, should that team lose the game during the time in which the goalkeeper has been removed, it would forfeit the automatic point gained in the tie at the end of regulation play, except if the goalkeeper has been removed at the call of a delayed penalty against the other team.”
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Keep your shirts on
Oh, and when you’re running track, keep your clothes on. In 2014, French steeplechase runner Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad was disqualified from the European 3,000-meter championship after taking off his shirt and bib for the final 100 meters of the race. Mekhissi-Benabbad was leading at the time, and his gaffe cost him a gold medal.