What Is an Illegal Motion In Football?

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What is an Illegal Motion In Football? 

In football, all eleven players on offense must be stationary before the ball is snapped. This means players can only move after the quarterback has received the snap and given direction to his team. Illegal motion occurs any time one or more offensive players are moving at the same time as when the ball is snapped.

The purpose of this rule is to prevent teams from confusing or deceiving their opponents by making it difficult to predict how each player will line up before running a play. 

Types Of Illegal Motions

False Start: A false start occurs when an offensive player moves prematurely before the snap. This can happen if a player jumps or shifts his weight before the snap or attempts to draw the defense offside by simulating a snap.

Illegal Shift: An illegal shift occurs when two or more offensive players move at the same time before the snap. This can happen if players line up in an illegal formation or attempt to deceive the defense by moving as if they are about to snap the ball.

Illegal Motion: This can occur if an offensive player fails to report a change of position before the snap. This is called an illegal formation, resulting in a five-yard penalty.

Consequences for Illegal Motion 

The consequence for an illegal motion violation is typically five yards from where the infraction occurred and loss of down (meaning that instead of having a fourth down with three yards left to gain for a first down, it goes back one down).

However, suppose multiple players are involved in an illegal shift or false start. In that case, only one penalty would be enforced even if all players were guilty of violating this rule (usually whichever player was closest to the ball). 

How To Avoid an Illegal Motion Penalty

Make sure you are lined up properly before the snap: If you are not in your proper position, it is more likely that you will move early.

Pay attention to the quarterback or center: They will usually signal when it is time to snap the ball. If you see them getting ready to snap the ball, do not move.

If you are unsure whether or not you should move, it is better to err on the side of caution and stay still: If you are penalized for an illegal motion, it can be a costly mistake for your team.


To summarize, illegal motion penalties in football can occur when either one or more than one player on offense moves before the ball has been snapped by the quarterback. As long as you understand these rules, you should be able to avoid committing any costly violations during your next game.