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What Is A Line Of Scrimmage in Football? (An Ultimate Explanation)

The line of scrimmage in football is an invisible line that helps determine where the offense will start and where players align themselves prior to the play. It is a crucial part of a football game as it marks the placement of the ball at any given point in the game.

So where does the term come from? How did become such an important part of football? Let’s read on for the answer!

Key Takeaways

  • The line of scrimmage in football is an invisible line running across the width of the field and perpendicular to the sidelines.
  • It is tangent to the nose of the ball and marks the position where the defensive and offensive units line up at the start of each down.
  • On broadcasted games, people use the line of scrimmage to present the position of the ball as it moves down the field. 

Who Has To Be On The Line Of Scrimmage?

what is the line of scrimmage

There are 11 players in each team in a football match. Seven of them from each team must line up to form the “line of scrimmage.” They are the offensive linemen, tight ends, receivers, and center.

The center is the one responsible to pass the ball. After passing the ball to the team’s quarterback, the center must protect him from being tackled by the opposing team. In short, the center is the most important player on the offensive line. He has to make sure that all of his teammates are in position as he draws up a play. Read here to learn about football offensive positions.

What Are The Rules In The Line Of Scrimmage?

Take note that at least seven players from each team must line up to form the line of scrimmage. These players are not permitted to be next to each other. They have to spread out and maximize the size of the pitch.

line of scrimmage in football
The offense and the defense form a line of scrimmage
  • Having fewer than seven may result in an illegal formation penalty.
  • If the eligible receivers did not line up at the opposite ends of the line, it would also be a penalty.
  • If five ineligible players fail to line up, a sanction will be given to their team. The offending team will be penalized with a five-yard penalty for every illegal formation.

In the rule book, only the center is allowed to have any part of his body pass through inside the neutral zone. Players who are lined up on the line of scrimmage are not permitted to touch the zone. 

The neutral zone has three major areas. Behind it is called the “offensive” side of the neutral zone. Beyond it is called the “defensive” side of the neutral zone. And last is the neutral zone itself. Other players may run to any part of the field after the center snaps the ball, and with that, the play continues. 

Line of Scrimmage on a Football Pitch


The line of scrimmage marks the border on which both teams must not cross before the snap of the ball. There will be a penalty called false start if an offensive player crosses the line before the ball is snapped. For a defensive player crossing the line prior to the snap, he will receive an offside penalty.


The formation of a new line of scrimmage signals the start of a new down. The ultimate goal of each team is to move the ball 10 yards down the field. Whenever there is a dead declaration of the ball, a new line scrimmage will start. The entire purpose is to move the scrimmage line and the ball down the field, so the team can score a touchdown.

Broadcast Line

Modern broadcast technology enables the visible presence of the line of scrimmage on TV.  You can see the line of scrimmage in blue or red depending on the broadcasters when presented on TV. You may notice different positions of this scrimmage line on the football pitch as the ball moves down the field. 

With the marked line of scrimmage, fans and audiences can always see where the ball is. This helps them better visualize the game and the distance that the offense needs to go for a down.  

Chain Crew

The chain crew is in charge of marking the line of scrimmage with the help of a 10-yard chain. The chain helps them measure the exact 10-yard distance of the first down marker on the field. Football players can also estimate their 10-yard goal and how far they need to go for the down.

Line of Scrimmage FAQs

Final Words

Despite being invisible to the eye, the line of scrimmage is one of the most significant lines in a football game. It does more than a line marking the position of the ball. It is part of the important strategic field placement that determines how both offenses and defenses will align prior to each play.

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[1] “Walter Camp (1951) – Hall of Fame – National Football ….” Accessed 9 Aug. 2020.
[2] “Washington Home | Washington Football Team ….” Accessed 9 Aug. 2020.

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