The offensive snap is an aspect of football often overlooked. It's the action that starts every play. To have a legal snap, the offensive linemen must be lined up and set, and then the center is allowed to snap the football. The center can be called for an illegal snap if they move the football before the snap, and there are a few ways this can result in an illegal snap penalty.
This penalty can only be called after the offensive linemen have set up and made adjustments pre-snap. The flag is thrown when the center moves the football before the snap, but after the offensive linemen have already set up.
There are various ways the center could illegally move the football before the snap such as: picking up the ball or pushing it forward, rotating the ball around end-to-end, or removing both hands.
In the NFL Rulebook there are specific requirements for the center to snap the football: the ball must be on the ground, the snap must be one quick and continuous motion (does not need to go through the center's legs), and the center must wait for all referees to set up in their positions for the next play.
The illegal snap penalty, while not called often, is an important rule to have. It evens the playing field so both teams need to start the play the same way. This allows the defensive team to try to "jump the snap" accordingly because there is no trick action or way to fool the defense. When the offensive center moves the ball it's time for the play to start.
The penalty not only helps the defense consistently when the play has begun, but also the offense. The center can't "fake out" the defense or the offensive players; because of this offensive players know when the play is supposed to start, making it easier to avoid jumping offside or committing other various pre-snap penalties.
The result of the penalty is a loss of 5 yards. An illegal snap can only be called on the offensive team (as they are the only players that can touch the ball before it is snapped). The play should be blown dead by the referee and there will be no "free play" or continuation after the infraction.
|Illegal Snap||Loss of 5 yards||Loss of 5 yards||Loss of 5 yards||Loss of 5 yards||N/A|
The referee will move one hand outward to signal illegal motion (in this case of the football) before the snap.