Rule 7 - Snapping and Passing the Ball
SECTION 1. The Scrimmage
Article 1 - Starting with a Snap
a. The ball shall be put in play by a legal snap unless the rules provide for a legal free kick. (A.R. 4-1-4:I and II)
b. No player shall put the ball in play before it is ready for play (Rule 4-1-4). (A.R. 4-1-4:I and II)
PENALTY − [a-b] Dead-ball foul. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S7 and S19: IPR/ISP].
c. The ball may not be snapped in a side zone (Rule 2-31-6). If the starting point for any scrimmage down is in a side zone, the ball shall be transferred to the nearest hash mark.
Article 2 - Shift and False Start
a. Shift. After a huddle (Rule 2-14) or shift (Rule 2-22-1) and before the snap, all Team A players must come to an absolute stop and remain stationary in their positions without movement of the feet, body, head or arms for at least one full second before the ball is snapped. (A.R. 7-1-2:I)
b. False Start. Each of the following is a false start by Team A if it occurs prior to the snap after the ball is ready for play and all players are in scrimmage formation:
1. Any movement by one or more players that simulates the start of a play.
2. The snapper moving to another position.
3. A restricted lineman (Rule 2-27-4) moving his hand(s) or making any quick movement.
(a) It is not a false start if a Team A lineman immediately reacts when threatened by a Team B player in the neutral zone (Rule 7-1-5-a-2) (A.R. 7-1-3:V)
(b) It is not a false start if the snapper takes his hand(s) off the ball, provided this does not simulate the start of a play (Rule 7-1-3-a-3).
4. An offensive player making any quick, jerky movement before the snap, including but not limited to:
(a) A lineman moving his foot, shoulder, arm, body or head in a quick, jerky motion in any direction.
(b) The snapper shifting or moving the ball, moving his thumb or fingers, flexing his elbows, jerking his head, or dipping his shoulders or buttocks.
(c) The quarterback making any quick, jerky movement that simulates the beginning of a play.
(d) A back simulating receiving the ball by making any quick, jerky movement that simulates the beginning of a play.
5. The offensive team never coming to a one-second stop prior to the snap after the ball is ready for play. (A.R. 7-1-2:IV) This is an illegal shift that converts to a false start.
Article 3 - Offensive Team Requirements — Prior to the Snap
Each of the following (a-d) is a dead-ball foul. Officials should blow the whistle and not allow the play to continue. After the ball is ready for play and before it is snapped:
a. Snapper. The snapper (Rule 2-27-8):
1. May not move to a different position nor have any part of his body beyond the neutral zone.
2. May not lift the ball, move it beyond the neutral zone or simulate the start of a play.
3. May take his hand(s) off the ball, but only if this does not simulate the start of a play.
b. Nine-Yard Marks.
1. Each Team A substitute must have been between the nine-yard marks. Team A players who participated in the previous down must have been between the nine-yard marks after the previous down and before the next snap. (A.R. 3-3-4:I)
2. All Team A players must have been between the nine-yard marks after a charged team timeout, an injury timeout, a media timeout or the end of a period.
c. Encroachment. Once the snapper is established, no other Team A player may be in or beyond the neutral zone [Exceptions: (1) Substitutes and departing players; and (2) offensive players in a scrimmage kick formation who break the neutral zone with their hand(s) to point at opponents].
d. False Start. No Team A player may commit a false start (Rule 7-1-2-b) or contact an opponent. (A.R. 7-1-3:III)
PENALTY − [a-d] Dead-ball foul: Five yards from the succeeding spot. [S7 and S19 or S20: FST/ENC].
Article 4 - Offensive Team Requirements — At the Snap
Violation of each of the following (a-c) is a live-ball foul; the play is allowed to continue.
a. Formation. At the snap, Team A must be in a formation that meets these requirements:
1. All players must be inbounds
2. All players must be either linemen or backs (Rule 2-27-4). (A.R. 7-1-4:VIII)
3. At least five linemen must wear jerseys numbered 50 through 79 (Exception: When the snap is from a scrimmage kick formation, paragraph 5 below.)
4. No more than four players may be backs.
5. In a scrimmage kick formation at the snap (Rule 2-16-10) Team A may have fewer than five linemen numbered 50-79, subject to the following conditions:
(a) Any and all linemen not numbered 50-79 who are ineligible receiver(s) by position become exceptions to the numbering rule when the snapper is established.
(b) Any and all such numbering-exception players must be on the line and may not be on the end of the line. Otherwise, Team A commits a foul for an illegal formation.
(c) Any and all such players are exceptions to the numbering rule throughout the down and remain ineligible receivers unless they become eligible under Rule 7-3-5 (forward pass touched by an official or a Team B player).
The conditions in 5(a)-5(c) are no longer in effect if prior to the snap a period ends or there is a timeout charged to the referee or one of the teams.
b. Man in motion.
1. One back may be in motion, but he may not be moving toward his opponent’s goal line.
2. The player who goes in motion may not start from the line of scrimmage unless he first becomes a back and comes to a complete stop.
3. A player in motion at the snap must have satisfied the one-second rule — i.e., he may not start his motion before any shift has ended (Rule 2-22-1-c).
c. Illegal shift. At the snap, Team A may not execute an illegal shift (Rule 7-1-2-a). (A.R. 7-1-3:I-II)
PENALTY − [a-c] Live-ball foul: Five yards from the previous spot [S19 or S20: ILF/ILM/ISH]. For live-ball fouls occurring when or after the snap starts during scrimmage kick plays other than field goal plays: Five yards from the previous spot or five yards from the spot where the subsequent dead ball belongs to Team B [S19 or S20].
Article 5 - Defensive Team Requirements
The defensive team requirements are as follows:
a. Each of the following (1-5) is a dead-ball foul. Officials should blow the whistle and not allow the play to continue. After the ball is ready for play and before the ball is snapped:
1. No player may touch the ball except when moved illegally as in Rule 7-1-3-a-1, nor may any player contact an opponent or in any other way interfere with him. (A.R. 7-1-5:I-II)
2. No player may enter the neutral zone threatening an offensive lineman and causing him to react immediately, or commit any other dead-ball offside foul (Rules 2-18-2 and 7-1-2-b-3 Exceptions). (A.R. 7-1-3:V) (A.R. 7-1-5:III)
3. No player may cross the neutral zone and without making contact continue his charge toward any back.
PENALTY − [1-3] Dead ball foul, offside. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S18: DOF].
4. Player(s) aligned in a stationary position within one yard of the line of scrimmage may not make quick, abrupt or exaggerated actions that are not part of normal defensive player movement. (A.R. 7-1-5:IV)
5. No player shall use words or signals that disconcert opponents when they are preparing to put the ball in play. No player may call defensive signals that simulate the sound or cadence of, or otherwise interfere with, offensive starting signals.
PENALTY − [4-5] Dead ball foul, delay of game. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S21: DOD].
b. When the snap starts:
1. No player may be in or beyond the neutral zone at the snap.
2. All players must be inbounds.
PENALTY − Live-ball foul. Five yards from the previous spot [S18: DOF].
Article 6 - Handing the Ball Forward
No player may hand the ball forward except during a scrimmage down as follows:
a. A Team A back may hand the ball forward to another back only if both are behind their scrimmage line.
b. A Team A back behind his scrimmage line may hand the ball forward to a teammate who is on his scrimmage line at the snap, provided that teammate leaves his line position by a movement of both feet that faces him toward his own end line and is at least two yards behind his scrimmage line when he receives the ball. (A.R. 7-1-6:I)
PENALTY − Five yards from the spot of the foul; also loss of a down if by Team A before team possession changes during a scrimmage down [S35 and S9: IFH].
Article 7 - Planned Loose Ball
A Team A player may not advance a planned loose ball in the vicinity of the snapper.
PENALTY − Five yards from the previous spot and loss of down [S19 and S9: IPR].
SECTION 2. Backward Pass and Fumble
Article 1 - During Live Ball
A ball carrier may hand or pass the ball backward at any time, except to throw the ball intentionally out of bounds to conserve time.
PENALTY − Five yards from the spot of the foul; also loss of down if by Team A before team possession changes during a scrimmage down (A.R. 3-4-3:III) [S35 and S9: IBP].
Article 2 - Caught or Recovered
a. When a backward pass or fumble is caught or recovered by any inbounds player, the ball continues in play. (A.R. 2-23-1:I)
1. Rule 8-3-2-d-5 (Team A fumble on the try).
2. On fourth down, before a change of team possession, when a Team A fumble is caught or recovered by a Team A player other than the fumbler, the ball is dead. If the catch or recovery is beyond the spot of the fumble, the ball is returned to the spot of the fumble. If the catch or recovery is behind the spot of the fumble, the ball remains at the spot of the catch or recovery.
b. When a backward pass or fumble is caught or recovered simultaneously by opposing players, the ball becomes dead and belongs to the team last in possession (Exception: Rule 7-2-2-a Exceptions).
Article 3 - After the Ball is Snapped
No offensive lineman may receive a hand-to-hand snap.
PENALTY − Live-ball foul. Five yards from the previous spot [S19: IPR].
Article 4 - Out of Bounds
a. Backward Pass. When a backward pass goes out of bounds between the goal lines, the ball belongs to the passing team at the out-of-bounds spot.
b. Fumble. When a fumble goes out of bounds between the goal lines:
1. In advance of the spot of the fumble, the ball belongs to the fumbling team at the spot of the fumble (Rule 3-3-2-e-2).
2. Behind the spot of the fumble, the ball belongs to the fumbling team at the out-of- bounds spot.
c. Behind or Beyond Goal Line. When a fumble or backward pass goes out of bounds behind or beyond a goal line, it is a safety or touchback depending on impetus and responsibility (Rules 8-5-1, 8-6-1 and 8-7). (A.R. 7-2-4:I) (A.R. 8-6-1:I) (A.R. 8-7-2:I)
Article 5 - At Rest
When a backward pass or fumble comes to rest inbounds and no player attempts to secure it, the ball becomes dead and:
a. If in advance of the spot of the pass/fumble, the ball belongs to the passing/fumbling team at the spot of the pass/fumble.
b. If behind the spot of the pass/fumble, the ball belongs to the passing/fumbling team at the dead ball spot.
SECTION 3. Forward Pass
Article 1 - Legal Forward Pass
Article 2 - Illegal Forward Pass
A forward pass is illegal if:
a. It is thrown by a Team A player whose entire body is beyond the neutral zone when he releases the ball.
b. It is thrown by a Team B player.
c. It is thrown after team possession has changed during the down.
d. It is the second forward pass during the same down.
e. It is thrown from in or behind the neutral zone after a ball carrier’s entire body and the ball have been beyond the neutral zone.
PENALTY − [a-e] Five yards from the spot of the foul; also loss of down if by Team A before team possession changes during a scrimmage down (A.R. 3-4-3:IV) and (A.R. 7-3-2:II) [S35 and S9: IFP].
f. The forward passer, to conserve time, throws the ball directly to the ground (1) after the ball has already touched the ground; or (2) not immediately after controlling the ball.
g. The forward passer, to conserve time, throws the ball forward into an area where there is no eligible Team A receiver. (A.R. 7-3-2:II-VII)
h. The forward passer, to conserve yardage, throws the ball forward into an area where there is no eligible Team A receiver (A.R. 7-3-2:I)
[Exception: It is not a foul if the forward passer is or has been outside the tackle box and throws the ball so that it crosses or lands beyond the neutral zone or neutral zone extended (Rule 2-19-3) or would have crossed the neutral zone if not touched by Team B. (A.R.
7-3-2:VIII-X) This applies only to the player who controls the snap or the resulting backward pass and does not relinquish possession to another player before throwing the forward pass.] PENALTY − [f-h] Loss of down at the spot of the foul [S36 and S9: ING]
Article 3 - Suspending the game
a. Eligibility rules apply during a down when a legal forward pass is thrown.
b. All Team B players are eligible to touch or catch a pass.
c. When the ball is snapped, the following Team A players are eligible:
1. Each lineman who is on the end of his scrimmage line and who is wearing a number other than 50 through 79.
2. Each back wearing a number other than 50 through 79.
d. An eligible player loses his eligibility when he goes out of bounds. (Rule 7-3-4) (A.R. 7-3-9:III)
Article 4 - Eligibility Lost by Going Out of Bounds
No eligible offensive receiver who goes out of bounds and returns in bounds during a down shall touch a legal forward pass while in the field of play or end zones or while airborne until it has been touched by an opponent or official. (A.R. 7-3-4:I-II and IV) [Exception: This does not apply to an originally eligible offensive player who immediately returns inbounds after going out of bounds due to contact by an opponent (A.R. 7-3-4:III)].
If he touches the pass before returning in bounds, it is an incomplete pass (Rule 7-3-7) and not a foul for illegal touching.
PENALTY − Loss of down at the previous spot [S16 and S9: ITP].
Article 5 - Eligibility Gained or Regained
Article 6 - Complete Pass
Article 7 - Incomplete Pass
a. Any forward pass is incomplete if the ball is out of bounds by rule (Rule 4-2-3) or if it touches the ground when not firmly controlled by a player. It also is
incomplete when a player leaves his feet and receives the pass but first lands on or outside a boundary line, unless his progress has been stopped in the field of play or end zone (Rule 4-1-3-p). (A.R. 2-4-3:III) (A.R. 7-3-7:I)
b. When a legal forward pass is incomplete, the ball belongs to the passing team at the previous spot.
c. When an illegal forward pass is incomplete, the ball belongs to the passing team at the spot of the pass (Exception: If Team B declines the penalty for an illegal pass thrown from the end zone, the ball shall next be put in play at the previous spot.) (A.R. 7-3-7:II- III)
Article 8 - Illegal Contact and Pass Interference
a. During a down in which a legal forward pass crosses the neutral zone, illegal contact by Team A and Team B players is prohibited from the time the ball is snapped until it is touched by any player or an official. (A.R. 7-3-8:II)
b. Offensive pass interference is contact by a Team A player beyond the neutral zone that interferes with a Team B player during a legal forward pass play in which the forward pass crosses the neutral zone. It is the responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the opponents. It is not offensive pass interference (A.R. 7-3-8:IV, V, X, XV and XVI):
1. When, after the snap, a Team A ineligible player immediately charges and contacts an opponent at a point not more than one yard beyond the neutral zone and maintains the contact for no more than three yards beyond the neutral zone. (A.R. 7-3-10:II)
2. When two or more eligible players are making a simultaneous and bona fide attempt to reach, catch or bat the pass. Eligible players of either team have equal rights to the ball. (A.R. 7-3-8:IX)
3. When the pass is in flight and two or more eligible players are in the area where they might receive or intercept the pass and an offensive player in that area impedes an opponent, and the pass is not catchable.
PENALTY − 15 yards from the previous spot [S33: OPI].
c. Defensive pass interference is contact beyond the neutral zone by a Team B player whose intent to impede an eligible opponent is obvious and could prevent the opponent the opportunity of receiving a catchable forward pass. When in question, a legal forward pass is catchable. Defensive pass interference occurs only after a legal forward pass is thrown. (A.R. 7-3-8:VII, VIII, XI and XII).
It is not defensive pass interference (A.R. 7-3-8:III) (A.R. 7-3-9:III):
1. When, after the snap, opposing players immediately charge and establish contact with opponents at a point that is within one yard beyond the neutral zone.
2. When two or more eligible players are making a simultaneous and bona fide attempt to reach, catch or bat the pass. Eligible players of either team have equal rights to the ball. (A.R. 7-3-8:IX)
3. When a Team B player legally contacts an opponent before the pass is thrown. (A.R. 7-3-8:III and X)
4. When there is contact by a Team B player that otherwise would be pass interference during a down in which a Team A potential kicker, from scrimmage kick formation, simulates a scrimmage kick by throwing the ball high and deep.
PENALTY − Team A’s ball at the spot of the foul, first down, if the foul occurs fewer than 15 yards beyond the previous spot. If the foul occurs 15 or more yards beyond the previous spot, Team A’s ball, first down, 15 yards from the previous spot [S33: DPI].
When the ball is snapped on or inside the Team B 17-yard line and outside the Team B two-yard line and the spot of the foul is on or inside the two-yard line, the penalty from the previous spot shall place the ball at the two-yard line, first down. (A.R. 7-3-8:XIV)
No penalty enforced from outside the two-yard line may place the ball inside the two-yard line (Exception: On the try when the snap is at the three-yard line, Rule 10-2-5-b).
If the previous spot was on or inside the two-yard line, first down halfway between the previous spot and the goal line (Rule 10-2-6 Exception).
Article 9 - Pass Interference: Summary
a. Either Team A or Team B legally may interfere with opponents behind the neutral zone.
b. Players of either team legally may interfere beyond the neutral zone after the pass has been touched. (A.R. 7-3-9:I)
c. Defensive players legally may contact opponents who have crossed the neutral zone if the opponents are not in a position to receive a catchable forward pass.
1. Those infractions that occur during a down in which a forward pass crosses the neutral zone are pass interference infractions only if the receiver had the opportunity to receive a catchable forward pass.
2. Those infractions that occur during a down in which a forward pass does not cross the neutral zone are Rule 9-3-4 infractions and the penalty is enforced from the previous spot.
d. Pass interference rules apply only during a down in which a legal forward pass crosses the neutral zone (Rules 2-19-3 and 7-3-8-a, b and c).
e. Contact by Team B with an eligible receiver involving a personal foul that interferes with the reception of a catchable pass may be ruled either as pass interference or as a personal foul with the 15-yard penalty enforced from the previous spot. Rule 7-3-8 is specific about contact during a pass. However if the interference involves an act that ordinarily would result in disqualification, the fouling player is disqualified from the game.
f. Physical contact is required to establish interference. (A.R. 7-3-8:I)
g. Each player has territorial rights, and incidental contact is ruled under "attempt to reach ... the pass" in Rule 7-3-8. If opponents who are beyond the line collide while moving toward the pass, a foul by one or both players occurs only if intent to impede the opponent is obvious. It is pass interference only if a catchable forward pass is involved.
h. Pass interference rules do not apply after the pass has been touched anywhere inbounds by an inbounds player or has touched an official. If an opponent is fouled, the penalty is for the foul and not pass interference. (A.R. 7-3-9:I)
i. After the pass has been touched, any player may execute a legal block during the remaining flight of the pass.
j. Tackling or grasping a receiver or any other intentional contact before he touches the pass is evidence that the tackler is disregarding the ball and is therefore illegal.
k. Tackling or running into a receiver when a forward pass obviously is underthrown or overthrown is disregarding the ball and is illegal. This is not pass interference but a violation of Rule 9-1-12-a, which carries a penalty of 15 yards from the previous spot plus a first down. Flagrant offenders shall be disqualified.
Article 10 - Ineligible Receiver Downfield
No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a forward passer throws a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone. A player is in violation of this rule if any part of his body is beyond the three- yard limit (Exception: If the passer is legally throwing the ball away and the ball lands near or beyond the sideline.) (A.R. 7-3-10:I and III).
PENALTY − Five yards from the previous spot [S37: IDP].
Article 11 - Illegal Touching
No originally ineligible player while inbounds may intentionally touch a legal forward pass until it has touched an opponent or an official. (A.R. 5-2-3:I) (A.R. 7-3-11:I-II) PENALTY − Five yards from the previous spot [S16: ITP].