For those that are new to football, it can be difficult to understand all the lines that seemingly move throughout the game. The biggest is the line of scrimmage, which is often the blue line on televised games.
So what is the line of scrimmage in football?
The line of scrimmage is the location of the ball during a football game. It moves as the ball moves, either forward or backward depending on the progression of a play. The line of scrimmage is where the players line up as well to start a play.
The line of scrimmage is not exactly all it seems, however. There are a lot of rules that both teams must follow, along with particular rules on advancing the ball, the history of the line scrimmage. But to start, if the line of scrimmage is always moving, then… where is the line of scrimmage?
Where Is the Line of Scrimmage?
The line of scrimmage moves as the ball moves throughout the game. The line of scrimmage is the location of the ball at any given point. When a team gains yardage on a down, the line of scrimmage moves towards the end zone. If the quarterback is sacked or the offense otherwise loses yards, the line of scrimmage moves backward.
There is a lot of importance to the line of scrimmage as it is integral for the placement of the ball at any given point in a football game. Some penalties, like defensive pass interference, are placed “at the spot of the foul”.
Or in turnovers, such as a fumble recovered by the defense, the line of scrimmage is moved to that spot. Without the line of scrimmage, we would not have much of an organized football game.
Why Is It Called the Line of Scrimmage?
The term ‘scrimmage’ actually comes from rugby. In rugby, there is a similar concept to the line of scrimmage, except that it is called a ‘scrum’–short for scrummage. It is a potato/potato situation.
Line of Scrimmage Rules
There are a lot of rules when it comes to the line of scrimmage. When a player (either offensive or defensive) breaks one of these rules, there will be a flag on the play. The result is either a dead ball or a free play, depending on who the penalty is against.
The biggest infraction at the line of scrimmage is an illegal formation, as this is one of the only penalties that actively deals with the line of scrimmage. However, a variety of other penalties can be called before the snap.
These are often neutral zone penalties committed by either team. The line of scrimmage is more used as a reference point rather than a determinate for the penalty.
Another penalty that can be called at the line of scrimmage is an illegal shift. The offense is permitted to move two or more players down the line of scrimmage twice before a ball is put in motion.
The players must come to a complete stop before the ball is snapped, and all wait one full second before the ball is snapped to move again. If two or more players are still moving when the ball is snapped, it is an illegal shift penalty.
It should be noted that the various calls and rules concerning the line of scrimmage and how many players (and which type) vary by league and level of football. For example, high school football is vastly different in rules for the line of scrimmage than the NFL, so there may be some variations as you watch different levels.
How Many Players Can Be On the Line of Scrimmage?
On the offensive side of the ball, there can be seven players lined up on the line of scrimmage. Of these seven, five of them must be linemen. Offensive linemen are considered “ineligible receivers”, which means that they cannot be given the ball to make an advance down the field.
Two of the players at the line of scrimmage must be receivers–either wide receivers, tight ends or even the occasional running back– and they have to be lined up before the play can begin. All other offensive team members, including the quarterback, are in what is called the backfield, or behind the line of scrimmage.
Any other formation than this will draw an ‘illegal formation’ penalty. Now, not all seven players are directly on the line of scrimmage as it is drawn on your screen or where the ball is placed.
The seven on the line of scrimmage have to be lined up in line with the snapper’s waistline. Officials usually look for this line before calling a penalty, and there is some leeway in calling such a penalty.
Defensively, players can be lined up anywhere on their side of the line of scrimmage. This may seem like an unfair advantage. However, to combat this, there is a penalty called a neutral zone infraction that applies only to the defense and somewhat checks this freedom. Defenses are also subject to offsides and false start penalties.
Can a Quarterback Throw Past the Line of Scrimmage?
Nope. The line of scrimmage is the last point where the quarterback can throw the ball forward. After the ball itself passes the line of scrimmage, no forward pass can be made–no matter if the ball returns to the line of scrimmage.
For example, if the quarterback wants to throw the ball but ends up fumbling the ball and it goes beyond the line of scrimmage–even if the quarterback recovers it–the ball cannot be thrown down the field.
If the quarterback decides to run the ball themselves, after the ball passes the line of scrimmage, the quarterback is considered a running back and cannot throw the ball. The only option remaining is to run forward. Also, if the quarterback does this type of play and is tackled, there cannot be a penalty for roughing the passer.
What Is the Neutral Zone?
The neutral zone is the width of the football as it sits on the line of scrimmage. The only player that is allowed to have any body part in the neutral zone is the snapper, who snaps the ball into play.
When either side of the ball moves before the play is alive, it results in a penalty. There are a variety of penalties that can be called in the neutral zone. For more information on the neutral zone in football, check out this article.
What Is a False Start in Football?
A false start is one of the most common penalties in football. It’s when an offensive player that’s lined up on the line of scrimmage moves out of position before the ball is snapped. This can be any movement, including shuffling the feet, jumping forward, twitching, or moving back.
The purpose of the false start penalty is to prevent an offensive player from baiting a defensive player into jumping offside. To avoid this, the offense must remain still until the center snaps the ball. Once snapped, the offense can move about as they wish.
When a false start is called on the offense, the play is dead immediately. They receive a five-yard penalty and repeat the down. For example, if it’s first down and they have 10 yards to go before the false start, it’s now a first down with 15 yards to go.
What Is Offside in Football?
Along with a false start, an offside penalty is one of the most common penalties in all of football. It’s similar to the false start but is called on the defense. It’s when a defensive player lines up in the neutral zone or jumps past the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped by the offense.
Similarly, a neutral zone infraction is when a defensive player jumps over the line of scrimmage and causes the offense to commit a false start penalty. The defensive player can avoid a penalty if they return to their side of the ball without causing the offense to move out of position.
Unlike a false start, an offside penalty doesn’t result in the play being called dead. Instead, the play continues and the offense is given a ‘free play.’ If something good happens for the offense, they decline the penalty. If something bad happens, they nullify the play and accept the penalty.
With a neutral zone infraction, the play is stopped due to the offense moving. Either way, an offside and neutral zone infraction results in a five-yard penalty on the defense and a repeat of down.
What Is Encroachment in Football?
Believe it or not, the offside and neutral zone infractions aren’t the only penalties against the defense when it comes to the line of scrimmage and neutral zone. An encroachment is when a defensive player makes contact with an offensive player before the ball is snapped.
Like a false start and neutral zone infraction call, the play is called dead immediately and the offense isn’t given a free play. The defense is called for a five-yard penalty and the offense repeats the down.
What Is the Blue Line in Football?
When someone refers to the blue line in football, they’re referring to the line of scrimmage that’s mapped out on a television broadcast. To make football easier to follow for fans at home, they place a blue line across the length of the field where the imaginary line of scrimmage is.
With the technology today, the blue line is extremely accurate and doesn’t interfere with a fan’s ability to see the players. It’s such a quality visual that it looks as if it’s painted on the field. The television broadcast also has a yellow line, which marks the first down on each play.
What Is a Down in Football?
Each down begins when the offense snaps the ball and ends when the defense tackles the offensive player or the play is called dead — such as an incomplete pass or a player running out of bounds. The offense has four downs to get a first down, which is 10 yards.
If the offense doesn’t get a first down after four opportunities, it’s a turnover on downs and the defense takes over possession of the ball at the spot. To avoid this, the offense generally uses their fourth down to punt the ball or kick a field goal, depending on where the line of scrimmage is.
To learn more about how downs work in football, click here.
What Is a Sack in Football?
A sack is one of the worst things that can happen to the offense, but one of the best things that can happen to a defense. It’s when the defense tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of yards. The line of scrimmage is then moved back to the spot of the ball.
A sack generally occurs during a blitz, but a quality defensive line provides enough pressure every play to increase their chance of getting a sack. To learn more about the sack in football, click here.