I read two rules quoted on this website that seems to overlap:

Rule 5, Section 1, Article 1:

The game is played by two teams of 11 players each. If a snap, free kick, or fair-catch kick is made while a team has fewer than 11 players on the field of play or the end zone, the ball is in play, and there is no penalty.

Section 5 Position of Players at the Snap, Article 1: Offensive Team

The offensive team must be in compliance with the following at the snap:

(a) It must have seven or more players on its line (3-18); and

(b) All players who are not on the line, other than the receiver of the snap under center, must be at least one yard behind it.

(c) No player may be out of bounds.

The first one says that the play can possibly start without all the players within the bounds. The second one says that the formation is considered illegal (penalty) if a player is out of bound.

The question is : what is the difference between an "out of bound" player and a player who is not part of the play to begin with ?

Moreover, it must have seven or more players on the line but the first rule implies that it is possible to have less than 7 players so it is another contradiction.

Is that a real overlap or I am missing something here ?

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    To me, this does not seem to overlap. A player may not be out of bounds during the Snap. As long as he does not enter the field, there is no player out of bounds as the 11th player is not part of the play.
    – Yousend
    Jul 13, 2016 at 12:43
  • Then how can you tell the difference between a player who is "not part of the play" from a player who is out of bounds ?
    – meucaa
    Jul 13, 2016 at 12:49
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    A player who is "out of bounds" would likely be a player that runs starts taking part of the play. I commented to offer my perspective on it as opposed to answering it. I'm not very knowledgeable on American Football rules.
    – Yousend
    Jul 13, 2016 at 12:52
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    @akadian Your perspective made me improve my question though, thanks :)
    – meucaa
    Jul 13, 2016 at 13:03
  • I see it like akadian... both rules suggest that is legal to play with 10 players (which probably happens occasionally). The second part just indirectly says a player out of bounds isn't allowed to play (not the best language?). Put it this way... it'd be like saying you can have no more than 14 golf clubs, and no golf club may be used that was not in your bag to begin with (unless replacing a broken club). So if you start with 8 clubs, you can't go get one out of your car. Likewise, if you start with 8 players on offense, a guy can't come play from the sideline during the play. Same idea. Jul 14, 2016 at 7:06

2 Answers 2


No. these two rules do not overlap at all, however they are related.

Rule 5, Section 1, Article 1:

Discusses the maximum number of players that can be on the field at one time (11), and how there is no penalty (during a snap, free kick, or fair-catch kick) if there are fewer.


Section 5 Position of Players at the Snap, Article 1: Offensive Team

Deals with how many players are allowed on the offensive line at one time, and where the rest of the players not on the line must be positioned (i.e. "not out of bounds", "at least one yard behind it").

So although both rules deal with the amount of players on the field at once, the first rule discusses the maximum, and the repercussions of breaching that. The other rule discusses where the 11 players that are allowed by the first rule, should be placed on the field.

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    So the defense could be only 2 players for example but the offense has to have 7 players or more on the field ? The offense cannot be only 3 players, am I right ?
    – meucaa
    Jul 14, 2016 at 19:18
  • Yes it seems so, since the rule states that the team "must have seven or more players on its line (3-18)". (Rule 3-18 just references the line of scrimmage). Although I believe it is also required to have a 'recover of the snap' or the quarterback on the offensive end. Jul 14, 2016 at 19:28

There may be less than eleven players on the field, but there are exactly eleven players most of the time.

I think the rule "must have seven or more players on its line" intended to say that "must have four or fewer players behind the line."

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