A common NFL touchdown celebration is to heave the football into the stands, particularly on a score late in the game. This is not a foul in the NFL, but it is subject to a $6,684 fine due to violating the league’s conduct policy, as it poses a safety threat to fans. In the new AAF, however, it is a violation of the playing rules and a 15-yard penalty for a player who throws a football into the stands. In the rules documentation that explains the NFL vs. AAF rule differences, it states:
Throwing the football in the stands is a 15 yard [unsportsmanlike conduct] foul. … The balls will be equipped with tracking device chips —that means no souvenirs.
Trent Richardson of the Birmingham Iron was the first to be penalized under this rule, after a post-touchdown spike bounced over the wall and into the stands during Sunday night’s game between the Iron and the Memphis Express. While this is technically not an example of “throwing the football in the stands” intentionally, the overriding clause of the rule is “no souvenirs”, which disallows any act that causes the football ends up in the stands, obviously excepting actual gameplay. This was a late add to the playing rules, and it is due to the balls being embedded with RFID tracking chips, allowing fans to “discover the speed, spin rate and trajectory” of the football.
In this case, it seems the rule is in place for budgetary reasons.
Line judge Brett Bergman and field judge Anthony Fleming made the call. There was some contemplation as to whether this was a foul under the rule or not, as the flags were not instantly thrown, and Fleming was looking around, seemingly trying to find out if another official agreed with his assessment of conclusion of the play. This will likely be discussed by AAF coordinator of officiating Steve Strimling with his crews this week, as this does seem to be an unforeseen occurrence.
This “no souvenirs” clause also prevents players from handing the football to fans in the front row, which itself is common in the NFL and not a violation of the playing rules or the conduct policy.
Update: Mike Pereira, SkyJudge and officiating consultant for the AAF, indicated on Twitter that spiking the football into the stands is not a foul and should not have been called. He also indicated that there will be no fine for this action by Richardson.