Inside Slant: Defining the false start


So you responded en masse to Monday's "Whistle Play" post, which detailed why the Seattle Seahawks had no recourse after multiple players believed a play had been ruled dead by a whistle that apparently originated from the CenturyLink Field stands. Many of you asked the natural follow-up: Why didn't referee John Parry penalize those players for a false start because they were standing up at the snap?

The answer is a lesson for all of us on a nuanced NFL rule. A review of the league's definition for false starts notes that one of two requirements must be met to require a penalty. Here is how Rule 7, Section 4, Article 2 reads:

"It is a False Start if the ball has been placed ready for play, and, prior to the snap, an offensive player who has assumed a set position charges or moves in such a way as to simulate the start of a play, or if an offensive player who is in motion makes a sudden movement toward the line of scrimmage. Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start."

Because the Seahawks were in punt formation, none of the players on the line was in a set position -- i.e., with a hand on the ground in a three-point stance. (In a later item, the rule book notes: "It is a False Start if an interior lineman … takes or simulates a three-point stance, and then changes his position or moves the hand that is on the ground.")

So the first requirement was not fulfilled Sunday night. And while the players were moving, no one made a "quick" or "abrupt" movement as if they were trying to simulate the snap. They were simply standing up and waiting for what they thought was a stoppage called by an official.

So what about illegal motion? Are players really allowed to stand up at the snap like that? Here is what the rule book says about illegal motion: "No player is permitted to be moving toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped."

Standing up is not the same as moving toward the line of scrimmage. So I think we're back to where we started: The Seahawks really didn't have recourse on the play.