Game Dayr is a reader-supported blog. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through our links. Learn more.

What is a Snap Infraction in Football? (Detailed Explanation)

The football snap is the mundane football exchange from center to the quarterback, signaling the beginning of every football play. Nonetheless, at all levels of football, there are clear definitions of a legal snap.

Snap infractions result from illegal snaps by the center: moving the football prior to the snap, snapping the football in a forward direction, and not releasing the football after the snap.

In this article, I discuss snap infractions, what they are and when they occur while providing video examples to strengthen your understanding. 

Key Takeaways

  • A snap infraction occurs when the center moves the football prior to the snap, snaps the ball forward, or fails to release it after the snap.
  • A snap infraction results in a five-yard penalty on the offense, and the play stops.
  • A snap infraction occurs after the center becomes set but before the play begins.

What is a Snap Infraction?

A snap infraction is only called on the center and results when he fails to execute a legal snap.

What constitutes a legal snap?

Rule 7, section 6, article 3 in the NFL Rulebook defines a legal snap [1]: 

  1. The snap must start with the ball on the ground, with its long axis at right angles to the line.
  • It is not necessary that the snap is 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.
  • The snapper may not snap the ball after it is ready for play until all of the officials have had a reasonable time to assume their normal positions. If this occurs, the ball remains dead, and no penalty is assessed unless it is a repeated act after a warning (delay of game). 

Therefore, a snap infraction can be called on the center if he picks up the football, moves it forward, or rotates it end-over-end prior to the snap. Additionally, a snap infraction may result if the football is snapped in a forward direction or not released after the snap. [2]


A snap infraction yields a five-yard penalty, and the play is whistled dead.

The video below shows a snap infraction on Virginia Tech center Zachariah Hoyt. Hoyt begins to snap the football and then stops his motion midstream. 

This second video also shows a snap infraction in the center. 

Before becoming set, the snapper rotates the football so that its long axis is parallel to the line of scrimmage. Nevertheless, this action is not illegal as the football may be moved and rotated in any direction before the center becomes set.

However, snapping the football while it remains in this orientation is illegal and results in a snap infraction.

Rule number one in the definition of a legal snap above states, “the snap must begin with the football’s long axis perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.” 


When Does a Snap Infraction Occur?

A snap infraction only occurs after the center is set in his position at the line of scrimmage. Once the center exits the huddle and approaches the line of scrimmage, he may pick the ball up, move it around, or turn and spin it in any manner he chooses.

However, the rules change once the center is set in his stance. From that point forward, he cannot move the football until he snaps it backward.

Confusion Between a Snap Infraction and a Loose Ball

There are times when the center illegally snaps the ball and others when the snap is legal, but the offense mishandles the football and allows it to hit the ground.

This distinction is an important one. 

An illegal snap is whistled dead, and the penalty is five yards.

A mishandled, legal snap that strikes the ground is treated no differently than a fumble or loose ball: the defense can recover the football. 

According to the NFL Rulebook: [3]

  • A snap is a backward pass. The snap must be received by a player who is not on the line at the snap unless the ball first strikes the ground. If the ball first strikes the ground or is muffed by an eligible backfield receiver or quarterback under center, it can be recovered and advanced by any player. 

Many times, the referees missed the call.

Watch the below gif, reread the portions of the rulebook cited in this article, and determine whether the referee makes the right call.

All rights reserved to the NFL

I do not observe any early movement of the football prior to the snap. 

Furthermore, the snap motion looks quick and continuous, the football leaves the snapper’s hand at the end of the backward movement, and the snap strikes the ground after the snapper releases it.

This snap is legal, and the offense mishandles it, allowing the football to strike the ground. The ruling should not have been a snap infraction on the Ravens but rather a loose ball that the Chiefs could have recovered was the play not whistled dead.

Final Thoughts

In writing this article, I aim to define a snap infraction, cite the rules regarding what constitutes a legal snap, and provide video examples of snap infractions. The last video functions as an exercise to determine how well you understand a snap infraction.

I will provide a profound analysis of a litany of football fundamentals with regularity. Stay tuned if you found this article useful, as many more are on the way. 



Read These Next