Top 6 Most Surprising Rules in Sports History

Football referee

Sports are filled with rules that keep the games fair and enjoyable for everyone. Some of these rules, however, are so surprising and peculiar that they deserve a closer look. From the NFL's one-point safety to polo's prohibition of left-handed players, these regulations add a layer of intrigue to the world of sports.

Let's delve into six of the most surprising rules that tell us just how quirky and fascinating sports can be.

1. The NFL’s One-Point Safety

You read that right. In the NFL, a team can actually score one point in a game, but it's a rare and peculiar outcome. This can occur on an extra-point attempt if a series of unlikely events happen. For instance, if the kicking team has its extra point blocked and a member of the defensive team picks up the ball and retreats into their own end zone only to be tackled there, the result is a one-point safety for the defending team. This highly improbable scenario adds an extra layer of strategy and oddity to the game.

2. Baseball’s Up-The-Middle Foul Ball

In Major League Baseball, you might assume a ball hit up the middle is always in play. Not so fast. According to MLB rule 2.00, if a line drive hits the pitching rubber and then caroms into foul territory, it’s ruled a foul ball. This rule is as logical as it is surprising, redefining our everyday understanding of foul and fair territory. Imagine a hot shot up the middle suddenly being considered foul—it’s an odd twist that few fans think about until it happens.

3. Polo’s No Left-Handed Players Rule

Polo’s unique and ancient history brings us one of the most surprising rules: no left-handed players. Players must hold their mallet in their right hand, according to US Polo Association regulations. This rule, outlined in their extensive 200-page rulebook, is in place to avoid dangerous jousting-like clashes when players approach the ball from opposite directions. Intriguingly, players active before the rule was reinstated in 1974 are grandfathered in, allowing them to still play left-handed.

4. NHL’s No Pulling the Goalie in Overtime

The NHL has its own share of quirky rules, and one of the most surprising is NHL rule 84.2: no pulling the goalie in overtime. If a team opts to pull its goalie during overtime to gain an extra attacker, they forfeit the one point that comes with an overtime loss. This rule aims to maintain fairness and prevent teams from excessively risking the outcome of games for a potential win, ensuring a level playing field.

5. College Basketball’s Pre-Game Dunking Ban

In NCAA basketball, dunking is an electrifying part of the game. However, NCAA basketball rule 4-1 prohibits players from dunking the ball during the 20-minute warm-up period before the game. Breaking this rule results in a technical foul, giving the opposing team a free throw before the game even starts. A famous example involved Kansas State, where a walk-on player dunked just two seconds into the countdown, leading to a 1-0 deficit before the game began.

6. The Fair Catch Kick in the NFL

Another gem from the NFL rulebook is the fair catch kick. The receiving team may attempt an undefended field goal from the spot if a punt returner calls for a fair catch, in accordance with NFL rule 11-4-3. This uncommon rule has been tried sporadically over the years and is only useful in specific end-of-half situations. The 49ers famously attempted a 71-yard fair catch kick under coach Jim Harbaugh, but the effort failed, showcasing just how rare and challenging this rule is to successfully execute.


Sports are a microcosm of human creativity, strategy, and sometimes, downright oddities. These six surprising rules showcase the diverse and complex nature of sports regulations, highlighting the intricate ways rules shape the game dynamics.

Whether it’s the rare but technically possible one-point safety in football or the unique rule against left-handed polo players, these quirks make sports even more fascinating. Next time you watch a game, remember these bizarre rules—they add a layer of excitement and unpredictability to the game odds and the overall sporting experience.