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Football False Start Penalty

Football False Start Penalty

A false start penalty is one that happens before the center snaps the ball to the quarterback starting the offensive play. This is a pre snap penalty. On offense, all 11 players on the field need to be set. This penalty occurs when offensive players are not set before the snap of the ball.


False start occurs when an offensive player gets out of their set stance before the ball is snapped. In simple terms, the offensive player begins the play before the play is set to start. This is equivalent to getting out of your stance and starting a race before the referee fires his gun. In running, that is also called a false start. When a false start is called, the play is blown dead by the referee.

Offensive linemen are called for false starts most often. This is because they are most likely to jump at the sound of the snap or a potential defender rushing at them. Blocking tight ends are in a similar position. Linemen and blocking tight ends also have to jump out of a stance which makes them more susceptible to getting called for this penalty.

When skill position players (running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends out wide) are not blocking on the line of scrimmage, they are much less likely to be called for the penalty because of the nature of the block. Any of the 11 players on the offensive side of the ball can be called for this penalty however, even the quarterback.


When a false start occurs, the play is blown dead and there is a 5 yard penalty on the offense. The down stays the same.

False Start5 Yards5 Yards5 Yards5 Yards, (known as illegal formation)5 Yards

Penalty Signal

football Penalty Signal

To signal a false start penalty, the referee will roll their arms in front of their body in circles. The referee then points in the direction of the offense and says the number of the player who committed the penalty.


  • Most common example: Offensive lineman or someone on the line called for jumping out of a stance too early.
  • While referees are usually less aggressive in calling false starts on wide receivers for small shakes of their body, they will be called for moving out of position once set and before the snap.
  • Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was called twice for a false start penalty in a preseason game. According to Murray, referees told him his clap was too abrupt and not smooth enough.

Similar Penalties To False Start