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Snap (football)

Snap (football)

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A snap starts each American football
American football
American football is a sport played between two teams of eleven with the objective of scoring points by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone. Known in the United States simply as football, it may also be referred to informally as gridiron football. The ball can be advanced by...

 and Canadian football
Canadian football
Canadian football is a form of gridiron football played exclusively in Canada in which two teams of 12 players each compete for territorial control of a field of play long and wide attempting to advance a pointed prolate spheroid ball into the opposing team's scoring area...

 play from scrimmage
Play from scrimmage
A play from scrimmage is the activity of the games of Canadian football and American football during which one team tries to advance the ball or to score, and the other team tries to stop them or take the ball away. Once a play is over, and before the next play starts, the football is considered...

.

Action


The ball begins on the ground with its long axis parallel to the sidelines of the field, its ends marking each team's line of scrimmage
Line of scrimmage
In American and Canadian football a line of scrimmage is an imaginary transverse line beyond which a team cannot cross until the next play has begun...

 in American football; in Canadian football line of scrimmage of the team without the ball is 1 yard their side of the ball. The snap must be a quick and continuous movement of the ball by one or both hands of the snapper, and the ball must leave the snapper's hands. The various rules codes have additional requirements, all of which have the effect of requiring the ball to go backwards to a player behind the line of scrimmage (i.e. in the "backfield"). The ball may be handed, thrown, or even rolled, and its trajectory and the ball during that passage are called "the snap". The snapper is almost always the center. The ball is almost always sent between the snapper's legs, but only in Canadian football is that required. Additional rules apply regarding the positioning and stance of the snapper as one of several "line" players in anticipation of the snap.


For a handed snap, the snapper will usually have his head up, facing opponents. For a thrown snap, especially in formations wherein the ball may be snapped to players in different positions, the snapper will commonly bend over looking between his legs. Because of the vulnerability of a player in such a position, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations ("Fed") have adopted rules providing that if a player is positioned at least 7 yards behind the neutral zone to receive a snap, opponents are not to deliberately contact the snapper until one second after the snap (NCAA), or until the snapper has a chance to react (Fed). However, in professional football it is common for a center to be able to practice a single "shotgun" formation
Shotgun formation
The shotgun formation is a formation used by the offensive team in American and Canadian football. This formation is used mainly for passing plays, although some teams use it as their base formation. In the shotgun, instead of the quarterback receiving the snap from center at the line of scrimmage,...

 thrown snap enough to keep his head up and toss it blindly.

Snap count


The team entitled to snap the ball will usually know in advance the moment when the snap is to occur as one of their players calls out signals, which usually include a loud sound such as "hut" voiced one or more times, the number of which they know; they are thus said to know the "snap count". Therefore they have a considerable advantage over their opponents. The snapper is not, however, allowed to make motions simulating part of the snap action; therefore their opponents can be confident the first motion of the ball or the snapper's hands is the beginning of the snap.

The snap count is decided on in the huddle
Huddle
In sport, a huddle is when a team gathers together, usually in a tight circle, to strategise, motivate or celebrate. It is a popular strategy for keeping opponents insulated from sensitive information, and acts as a form of insulation when the level of noise in the venue is such that normal...

, usually expressed as "...on ." being the final words spoken by the quarterback after calling the play but before the huddle breaks and the players go to the line of scrimmage
Line of scrimmage
In American and Canadian football a line of scrimmage is an imaginary transverse line beyond which a team cannot cross until the next play has begun...

. The snap count allows offensive players to have a small head start. The opposing linebacker
Linebacker
A linebacker is a position in American football that was invented by football coach Fielding H. Yost of the University of Michigan. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up approximately three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen...

 wants to predict the snap, and build up speed such that he crosses the line of scrimmage
Line of scrimmage
In American and Canadian football a line of scrimmage is an imaginary transverse line beyond which a team cannot cross until the next play has begun...

 exactly as the play begins, so as to increase his chances of getting a tackle for a loss, or a sack. By varying the snap count, a quarterback forces the defensive players to react to the movement of the offensive players, or risk being called for an offsides or encroachment
Encroachment
Encroachment is a term which implies "advance beyond proper limits," and may have different interpretations depending on the context. Encroachment may refer to one of the following:* Temporal encroachment* Structural encroachment...

 penalty. Unfortunately for the offense, this advantage can sometimes become a disadvantage. When faced by an exceptionally loud stadium, players may be unable to hear the snap count, and are forced to concentrate more on visual cues (silent snap count or a hard count), or risk false start
False start
In sports, a false start is a movement by a participant before being signaled or otherwise permitted by the rules to start...

 penalties.

The offense must also be mindful of the play clock
Play clock
A play clock is a timer designed to increase the pace in American football and Canadian football, similar to what a shot clock does in basketball...

. If they fail to snap the ball in time they incur a delay of game penalty. Also, with a dwindling play clock, the defense has better chances of guessing when the ball will be snapped. It is easier to predict when the ball will be snapped with 2 seconds left on the play clock, rather than 5 seconds.

History and rationale


The snap, the set scrummage
Scrum (rugby)
Scrum , in the sports of rugby union and rugby league, is a way of restarting the game, either after an accidental infringement or when the ball has gone out of play...

 and ruck in today's rugby union
Rugby union
Rugby union, often simply referred to as rugby, is a full contact team sport which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand...

, and the play-the-ball in rugby league
Rugby league
Rugby league football, usually called rugby league, is a full contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular grass field. One of the two codes of rugby football, it originated in England in 1895 by a split from Rugby Football Union over paying players...

 have common origins in rugby football
Rugby football
Rugby football is a style of football named after Rugby School in the United Kingdom. It is seen most prominently in two current sports, rugby league and rugby union.-History:...

. As the rules of rugby's scrimmage were written when the game came to North America by Mike Newell, they had a significant flaw which was corrected by custom elsewhere, but by the invention of the snap in American football. See "Why the Uncontested Scrimmage".

The rule adopted by a committee for American football in 1880 first provided for the uncontested right of one side to play the ball by foot (in any direction) for a scrimmage. A certain use of the foot on the ball which had the same effect as heeling it back was known as a "snap". Later in the 19th Century the option of snapping the ball back by hand was added. The option to play the ball with the foot was preserved, however, for several decades, although by early in the 20th Century it was restricted to kicking the ball forward. The kick forward in scrimmage was a surprise play which did not work against a prepared defense. Also for several decades alternatives to the scrimmage for playing the ball from across the sideline after it had gone out of bounds -- a throw-in or "fair", and "bounding in" -- existed. Note also that until well into the 20th Century, rather than an official readying the ball for scrimmage, the side entitled to the snap had complete custody of the ball and could snap it from the required spot at any time; for instance, a tackled ball carrier might feign injury, then suddenly snap the ball while recumbent, there being no stance requirement yet. The neutral zone and the right of the snapper not to be contacted by an opponent before the snap also was not an original feature. As the 20th Century drew to a close, the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations extended that protection to some time after the snap, in cases where a player is positioned at least 7 yards deep to receive a thrown snap.

Canadian football used the rugby scrimmage unaltered until near the end of the 19th Century, when, regionally at first, under the influence of the American scrimmage, the number of players in the scrimmage was limited to three -- a "centre scrimmager" bound on either side by props called "side scrimmagers". The centre scrimmager was later renamed the "snap", and in intercollegiate play one side was given the right to put foot to ball first. Beginning regionally again and universally by 1923, the Burnside rules
Burnside Rules
The Burnside rules were a set of rules that transformed Canadian football from a rugby-style game to the gridiron-style game it has remained ever since...

 led to the 3-man scrimmage being reduced to the centre alone, the number of players on the field being reduced commensurately from 14 to 12, and a snap rule and neutral zone similar to that of American football was adopted. In addition to the between-the-legs requirement noted above, for several years after the adoption of the hand snap, a hand-to-hand snap was illegal, the ball required to be thrown instead, in Canadian football. (Though it was technically legal, the hand-to-hand snap was not used on the American side of the border until the 1930s.) Apparently a complete break was desired from system of backheeling, and the T formation having gone into eclipse in American football at the time, the Canadian snap was modeled on the formations then in common use in the USA, such as the single wing.

The game design rationale for requiring the snap to be a quick and continuous motion to the backfield is to eliminate the need for rules provisions for a live ball in scrimmage. In Rugby Union the ball may be retained by the forwards and played for a time via the foot in a scrummage (which Rugby League has as well) or ruck, or by the hands in a maul, necessitating additional restrictions on play and player positioning during those intervals. In American and Canadian football, the ball as it is put in play is only held in the line (by the snapper) for a fraction of a second. The uncontested possession also, as Walter Camp
Walter Camp
Walter Chauncey Camp was an American football player, coach, and sports writer known as the "Father of American Football". With John Heisman, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, Fielding H. Yost, and George Halas, Camp was one of the most accomplished persons in the early history of American football...

pointed out, allows for better offensive and defensive planning by the side entitled to snap the ball and their opposition, respectively. A muffed snap can be recovered by either team.