How a Delay of Game Works

football official calls penalty
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Delay of game is a penalty called on a team for failing to put the ball in play before the play clock expires.

Play Clock

The play clock in football is often referred to as the delay-of-game timer. It is designed to make sure that all teams have the same amount of time to prepare for plays. Teams do not have to use all of the time allotted for by the play clock, but they cannot take any additional time.

In the NFL, teams have a total of 40 seconds from the end of the previous down to snap the ball on the next down. If delays or penalties have stopped the flow of the game, teams have twenty-five seconds to snap that ball after it has been declared ‘ready’ by the officials.

Variations on the ​Delay of Game

There are several infractions that could lead to a team being called for a delay of game:

Clock: If a team fails to put the ball in play before the play clock expires they will be called for a delay of game penalty. Teams have forty seconds from the end of the previous play to snap the ball. If the play clock is running low, teams often opt to call a timeout in order to avoid being called for a delay of game penalty.

Too many players on the field: Each team is permitted to have eleven players on the field at any given time. If a team has more than eleven players on the field and it is noticed by a referee, a delay of game penalty will be called.

This can happen as a result of a miscommunication as players are subbed on and off of the field in-between plays. It is usually the duty of a particular player to make sure the correct number of players is on the field.

‘Ghost timeout’: If a team calls a timeout but does not have any time outs remaining as a result of having used all they were allotted already, a delay of game penalty will be called.

A team is allotted three timeouts per half.

Defensive Delay of Game

In addition to the ways listed above, a defense can also be called for a delay of game penalty in a couple of other ways. If the defense fails to yield to ball over to officials in a timely manner after the play has ended they may be called for a delay of game. This includes a defensive player holding onto the ball for too long or smacking the ball out of the hands of an offensive player. Additionally, if the defense purposefully prevents an offensive player from getting up off of the ground after a play, they will be called for a delay of game penalty. The delay of game penalty could be called on an individual player or on the defense as a whole.

A delay of game call results in a five-yard penalty for the offending team.