Football Illegal Snap Penalty

Football Illegal Snap Penalty

The offensive snap is an aspect of football often overlooked. It’s the action that starts every play. To have a legal snap, also known as a “pass from center,” the offensive linemen must first be lined up and set; only then is the center 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.

What Is a Snap Infraction in Football?

An illegal snap penalty can only be called after the offensive linemen have set up and made adjustments pre-snap. A snap infraction occurs 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.

Definition of Illegal Snap

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 (importantly, it does not necessarily 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 by requiring both teams to start play the same way. This allows the defensive team to try to “jump the snap,” as there is no trick action or way to fool the defense. When the center moves the ball, it’s time for the play to start.

The penalty helps not only the defense but also the offense. The center can’t “fake out” the defense; 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 an illegal snap penalty is a loss of five 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 will be blown dead by the referee, and there will be no “free play” or continuation after the infraction.

PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Illegal SnapLoss of 5 yardsLoss of 5 yardsLoss of 5 yardsLoss of 5 yards

Penalty Signal

Football Penalty Signal Illegal Shift

To signal an illegal snap, the referee will move one hand outward to signal an illegal motion (in this case, of the football) before the snap.


  • Before the snap, the center lifts the ball and pushes the ball forward.
  • Before the snap, the center rotates the ball end over end.
  • Before the snap, the center removes both hands from the ball.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Snap


What is the NFL snap infraction rule?

The NFL snap infraction rule dictates how, when, and to whom a ball may be snapped. A legal snap must start with the ball on the ground, with the long axis pointing toward the end zones. The center must wait a reasonable amount of time for the officials to assume their positions, and the snap must be made to an eligible snap receiver, which is any player not on the line of scrimmage. If any of these conditions are not met, an illegal snap has occurred.

What is a snap infraction penalty?

A snap infraction penalty punishes an illegally performed snap with a loss of five yards from the line of scrimmage. When an illegal snap occurs, an official will blow their whistle immediately to stop play and then assess an illegal snap penalty. This penalty occurs when the center snaps the ball too early, facing the wrong direction, not from the ground, or to an ineligible snap receiver.

What is an illegal snap in college football?

An illegal snap in college football is a snap that is executed too early, in an illegal motion or direction, or to an ineligible snap receiver. The rules governing snaps and illegal snap penalties are exactly the same in college football as they are in NFL, CFL, and high school play: any illegal snap results in a loss of five yards.