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Football Illegal Motion Penalty

Football Illegal Motion Penalty

Illegal motion is a penalty in football called against offensive players who are already in motion toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. This rule prevents offensive players from getting a running start by moving toward the line of scrimmage as the play starts. An illegal motion penalty results in a loss of five yards for the offense.

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Definition

The illegal motion rule prohibits offensive players from moving toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. One player in the backfield is allowed to be in motion when the ball is snapped, as long as they are moving laterally or away from the line of scrimmage. The remaining offensive players, including the quarterback, must be stationary in their positions for at least one second prior to the snap. If any of those remaining offensive players fail to maintain their stationary position for the required second before the snap, illegal motion has occurred.

Eligible receivers are allowed to move to another spot on the line of scrimmage, but they must reset to a stationary position before the ball is snapped. Failure to reset for one second before the play starts is considered an illegal motion penalty. The same rule applies to players in the backfield. Running backs and quarterbacks are allowed to move towards the line of scrimmage prior to the ball being snapped as long as they come to a complete stop at least one full second before the play starts. Failure to do so results in an illegal motion penalty.

The illegal motion rule is in place to prevent offensive players from getting a running start before the play starts. Players with a running start would have an unfair advantage over defenders. However, sometimes, when the illegal motion penalty is called, the player penalized may not have had the intention of getting a running start before the play began. In certain cases, the player at fault simply may have failed to come to a complete stop when shifting positions on the line of scrimmage. This is why it is important for offensive linemen and backs to be cautious whenever they move before the snap occurs.

Result

PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Illegal Motion5 Yards5 Yards5 Yards5 Yards

The illegal motion penalty results in a loss of five yards for the offense.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal motion

To signal an illegal motion penalty, the referee extends one arm in a horizontal position. The referee then bends their arm at the elbow and positions their hand so that it is parallel to the ground.

Examples

  • A running back in the backfield moves toward the line of scrimmage as the ball is snapped.
  • A wide receiver moves to another position on the line of scrimmage but does not come to a complete stop before the play begins.
  • A quarterback intends to step up from his shotgun position in the backfield but is caught moving toward the line of scrimmage during the snap.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Motion

FAQ

What is an illegal motion penalty in football?

An illegal motion penalty in football is a violation committed by offensive players moving prior to the snap. Before the snap, a single offensive player is permitted to be in motion in the backfield, but they must be moving laterally or away from the line of scrimmage, not toward it. All other offensive players must remain stationary for at least one second prior to the snap; failure to do so will result in an illegal motion penalty.

Why can’t you run toward the line of scrimmage before a snap in football?

Offensive players are limited in their ability to move behind the line of scrimmage in football, and one of these limitations is a prohibition against running toward the line of scrimmage before a snap. Certain offensive players, such as the quarterback, can move towards the line of scrimmage before a snap, but must come to a complete stop for at least one second before the snap. Otherwise, any other offensive player can only move parallel to or away from the line of scrimmage before a snap. This is to avoid offensive players gaining an advantage by running toward the line of scrimmage.

Can you challenge an illegal motion call in football?

You cannot challenge an illegal motion call in football. In NFL and NCAA football, coaches are not permitted to challenge fouls. The spot of the foul and the enforcement of the penalty may be challenged, but the fact of whether or not a foul such as illegal motion has been committed is not able to be challenged. The CFL permits only a few fouls to be challenged, and illegal motion is not one of them.

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