false start football

What Is a False Start in Football? Everything You Need To Know

There are several penalties in a football game. You’ve probably seen a penalty because of an offside, false start, and zone infraction. False start football is big and common in the NFL and college football.

So, what exactly is false start football? False start in football is an infraction in which an offensive player moves after taking a set position before the ball is snapped. The player usually moves in a manner that stimulates play starting before a ball is snapped.

Once positions are taken, offensive linemen need to wait for the ball to be snapped before making any moves. The NFL Rulebook states that, a false start is when the ball is ready for play before the snap, and an offensive player in a set position moves in a manner to stimulate the start of a play.

Any quick or abrupt move by a single or several offensive players that stimulate the start of a snap is considedered false start. 

Keep reading below as I discuss everything you need to know about false start in football.

What Counts as False Start in Football?

False start in football counts when an offensive player takes a position and moves in a way to stimulate the start of play before a ball is snapped.

It is usually a quick and abrupt move by an offensive player or several offensive players in unison that appear to signal the start of play.

The false start counts in a timeframe between setting the ball and snapping the ball. It can happen when a single player moves or several players make a sudden move towards the scrimmage line.

It counts as false to help prevent the offense from deceiving the defense into committing penalties.

In a game of football before the start, the offense has a slight upper hand over the defense. They usually know when the ball is going to be snapped before the defense knows.

To even out the advantage of the offense, false start penalty is awarded making it illegal for the offense to fake a start. You can compare the false start to a rule for fair catch.

Penalty for a False Start

A penalty for false start is a five-yard penal issued to the offensive side for wrongly stimulating play before it starts, or driving the defense offside. Play stops immediately after being ruled a false start, and the offensive team replays the down.

football referee

Offsides vs. False Start

False starts and Offsides both lead to a 5-yard penalty. However, a false start leads to the ball being dead immediately. This aids in protecting the quarterbacks from harm because, should the play continue, the defenders may tackle them.

False starts are called on offensive players while Offside penalties are called upon defensive players. A defender can get a false start but in a different name.

How Can You Avoid False Starts?

You can avoid false starts in football by teaching players to pay great attention to quarterback calls signifying a snap. Being audible in football is something every player should pay attention to.

In huddles, players need to be keen and know when quarterbacks will call a snap. For offensive players, it is pretty easy to know when quarterbacks call for a snap since they are very close to them.

To avoid false starts, players need to turn heads toward the quarterbacks, and listen and watch movements. They can then move as soon as they see the ball snap.

In general, the key to avoiding a false start is asking your offensive players to be patient. After all, they already have the advantage by being close to the quarterbacks. The penalties are even worse in Athletics. A  false start Olympics in athletics leads to disqualifications.

What Does a False Start on Defense Mean?

A defense false start is a neutral zone infraction and happens when a defender crosses the scrimmage line before a snap. So, when you compare a false start vs neutral zone infraction, they are different things.

A defense false start does not count even when the defender causes an offensive football player to move before a snap. It doesn’t count because the offensive player did not initiate the move.

So there is always a difference between a snap infraction vs false start.

How Do Quarterbacks Get False Start?

Rarely do quarterbacks get false starts? However, when they do, it is when they are trying to get the defense to jump offside.

Quarterbacks are capable of using a hard count to trick opponents. However when they move around often or bob their head, then they are going to get a false start.

football game referee

When they move around exuberantly to get the offensive linemen snapping the ball, they will get a false start penalty.

In most cases, they are let go as it’s thought they are trying to get their linemen’s attention to snap the ball as opposed to influencing the opponents.

What’s the Difference Between Offsides and False Start in Football?

The difference between offsides and false starts in football is that play is dead immediately in false starts. False starts penalties are called on offensive players while offside penalties are called on defensive players.

What Is the False Start Rule?

The false start rule is if the ball is placed ready for play, before a snap and a player from offensive side in a set position moves in a way to suggest the start of a play or moves suddenly to the scrimmage line.


A false start in football is the leading cause of penalties against the offense. It happens when offensive players stimulate a move of play prior to the ball being snapped. A 5-yard penalty is awarded for the false start. While the penalty might appear small, it can be devastating, killing drives and changing a game.

Teams need to avoid false starts by paying close attention to the quarterbacks. Overall, teams need to know the importance of avoiding false starts in football.

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