NFL Rules on Forfeit


In its long history, the National Football League has seen only one forfeit. It occurred in 1921, just the third season of what was then called the American Professional Football Association. Game officials awarded a forfeit to a Washington team known as the Pros after the Rochester Jeffersons refused to play because of weather and field conditions. A forfeit may be a once-in-a-century occurrence, but the NFL still has procedures for it.

Awarding Forfeits

  • No league official, not even the commissioner, has the authority to declare a forfeit unilaterally--that is, to simply say that one team will be the winner--if both teams are prepared to play. Winners and losers must be determined on the field, under conditions controlled by the referee. A forfeit can be awarded only if one team is unable or unwilling to take the field, and the other team is ready to play.


  • If a team wins a game by forfeit, the official score is 2-0. However, those 2 points are not included in any calculations of points scored by the winner or allowed by the loser. For example, when teams are tied for playoff spots, some tie-breaking steps involve looking at how many points the team scored and allowed. Forfeit points would be left out of those tie-breakers.


  • The game referee must consult the commissioner's office before a team can award a forfeit. Every game has a league official assigned to handle these kinds of logistical matters. The rules forbid the referee from discussing the possibility of a forfeit with coaches and other team personnel, and he cannot use the word "forfeit" over his public-address system. If the referee and league officials decide to award a forfeit, it's up to the commissioner or his representatives to decide how to announce it.

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  • Photo Credit American football field. image by Sandra Henderson from
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