What Is An Illegal Snap Infraction NFL Football?

An illegal snap infraction in the NFL is an offensive penalty that is called on the center and results in a loss of five yards. 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

An illegal snap occurs when a center fails to snap the ball in one continuous motion. If the center makes a sudden movement prior to snapping the ball this penalty will be called.

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 an illegal snap infraction is as a false start called on the center.

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 level, 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 that 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.

Nowadays in the NFL, it has become commonplace to use a hard count. As well as other methods to try and get the defense to commit a 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 is one position that many players look toward during the 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 provoke the defenders to jump offside. It is for this reason the ball is supposed to be snapped in one quick continuous motion.

By enforcing rules regarding the snap of the ball the league ensures the ball is snapped in a smooth motion each play.

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 be performed in a “smooth and continuous motion”. These terms are used both in the NFL rulebook as well as the NCAA rulebook.

So as long as you 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.

2 thoughts on “What Is An Illegal Snap Infraction NFL Football?”

  1. So why does the defense not have the option to decline this penalty? Case in note, the Seahawks defend a 4th and 1 against the 49er’s who get hit with a snap infraction at their 44. They lose the effort to convert but get a 5 yard penalty that allows them to replay the down and opportunity to punt. The penalty plays out in the 49er’s favor giving the Seahawks a less advantageous field position and doesn’t reward the Seahawks for a 4th and 1 stop.

  2. That was a real whiz bang description: “An illegal snap infraction in the NFL is an offensive penalty that occurs when the center illegally snaps the ball.”


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