What Is Encroachment in Football? The Correct Answer Is Here!

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As a beginner with American football, chances are high that you will be overwhelmed by the definitions, terms, and slang associated with the sport.

Today, Scott Fujita takes you a little closer to this sport by explaining the term “Encroachment in football.”

What is encroachment in football? Let’s read to find out right now! 

What Is Encroachment in Football?

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Encroachment is different from an offsides penalty.

Encroachment in football refers to counting a penalty when defensive players cross the scrimmage line before the snap and make contact with one offensive player, or they have one clear path to the quarterback.

But you should not confuse it with one offsides penalty since a defensive player is allowed to cross into a neutral zone and can get back on his side before the quarterback starts the play.

The encroachment rules might vary in the NFL, the NCAA, and high school. The rules  about encroachment for each league are concise as follows:

  • For the NFL game, encroachment will be called when one defensive player gets into a neutral zone before the snap and contacts the offensive player or has one clear path to the quarterback. However, it is just an offsides penalty in NCAA games.
  • For the NCAA football game, encroachment penalties for the defensive player are non-existent. But the encroachment will be called if one offensive player goes beyond the scrimmage line after the snapper (or center) touches the football.
  • For high school games, encroachment will be called when one defensive player crosses into a neutral zone ahead of the snap, regardless of the touch of an offensive or not.

What Are Differences Between False Start and Encroachment?

The main difference between a false start and encroachment is that one is a penalty assessed to the offense, and the other is assessed to the defense. 

One false start refers to one penalty that happens when one offensive player begins to move before snapping the ball. Meanwhile, one encroachment penalty will occur when one defensive player begins the play too early.

What these two infractions have in common is a 5-yard penalty.

If you watch a football match on TV and see a flag, you should hear a referee call a false start if your favorite team is on defense and encroachment if they are on offense.

What Are Differences Between Encroachment and Offside?


Encroachment happens when one player passes over the scrimmage line, they may have initially lined upright but jumped over the line for whatever reason. 

Meanwhile, an encroachment occurs when a player contacts another player of the opposite team, which is not required for an offside penalty. 

This penalty type will happen when the defensive player makes a mistake in the “hike call” of the QB and moves quickly before snappìn the ball.


Offsides will occur when one player is over the scrimmage line before the snap. It usually happens when players are unaware they’re over the scrimmage line.

But there is the time when some players might be slightly over the scrimmage line if they believe the referee will not notice, meaning they can get to the QB quicker on the snap as they’re slightly closer.


Is It Possible to Decline This Penalty?

what is encroachment in football

Whenever one penalty is called against a team, its opponents will have the choice to decline.

Yes. Although it is extremely rare, players are enabled to decline this penalty in football games. Technically speaking, a player can always be allowed to decline any penalty he may face.

These penalties are a dead ball penalty, it’ll almost always be accepted. It doesn’t affect the down, it’ll only make his distance to the 1st down shorter.

What Does Encroachment Mean in a Flag Football Game?

For flag football games, encroachment will follow the same rules as in NFL games. After blowing whistles and before snapping the ball, a player will commit encroachment if he goes into the neutral zone.

The difference with NFL games is the player mustn’t contact another player. He has to make his way into a neutral zone. Then it will be immediately one dead ball, and the team will get a five-yard penalty.

What Does Encroachment Mean in Soccer?

Encroachment refers to a foul that might be committed in a soccer match. It occurs when a player encroaches on the space of others, affecting their ability to play freely.

What Is A Dead Ball In A Football Game?

In an American football game, one ball is considered dead at any point after the official has said the play is over. In other words, a dead ball is when there are no plays currently happening on the football field.

The Bottom Line

So we helped you answer, “What does encroachment mean in football?”

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section. We’d love to solve readers’ queries!

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