An illegal snap infraction in the NFL is an offensive penalty that occurs when the center illegally snaps the ball. The NFL rule regarding this policy states
“It is not necessary that the snap be between the snapper’s legs. But it must be one quick and continuous motion of the hand or hands of the snapper. The ball must leave or be taken from his hands during this motion.” – NFL Rulebook
In other words an illegal snap refers to center not snapping the ball in one continuous motion. The plays that will be called for this penalty will involve the center making a sudden movement prior to snapping the ball.
Even just a twitch of the center’s hands after he has placed them on the ball is enough to call an illegal snap infraction. Another helpful way to think of it is an illegal snap infraction is like a false start call on the center position.
What Is An Illegal Snap Infraction In College Football?
The NCAA ruling on an illegal snap infraction is very similar to the NFL’s. In order for a snap to be done legally at the collegiate it must meet these expectations.
“The snap need not be between the snapper’s legs; but to be legal, it must be a quick and continuous backward motion.” – NCAA Rulebook
This follows the same logic of the NFL rule which ensures the a legal snap is generated from one single motion.
Why Do They Have An Illegal Snap Infraction Penalty?
The reason behind this penalty is so that the center does not use false motion with the ball in order to generate a neutral zone infraction or encroachment.
Now a days in the NFL it has become common place to use a hard count. As well as other methods to try and get the defense to commit penalty. In order to make sure this is done fairly the NFL has put several rules in place.
For example no player may be running towards the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. If you complete a shift you must stand still for at least one full second once the shift is complete.
These rules ensure that the offense can’t use unfair tactics in order to trick the opposing team.
The illegal snap infraction is one of these rules. The center one position that many players look towards during he snap. These players are watching the hands of the center. This is so they can start the play the second the ball is snapped.
If the center were to do a sort of “pump fake” with the ball it would easily cause defenders to jump offside. It is for this reason the ball is supposed to be snapped in one quick continuous motion.
By placing rules regarding the snap of the ball these leagues can ensure the ball is snapped in a similar way each time.
Do You Have To Snap The Ball Between Your Legs?
Despite snapping the ball through your legs being the norm at every level of football it is not the only legal way to do it. Both the NFL and the NCAA state in their rulebook that the ball does not have to be snapped between your legs.
The rules state the main compliance that must be followed with the snap is this. It must performed in a “smooth and continous motion”. These terms are used both in the NFL rulebook as well as the NCAA rulebook.
So as long as your snap the ball in one quick continuous motion. Then you should find that your snap is legal. Even if it doesn’t go in between your legs.