NCAA RULE 3 Periods, Time Factors and Substitutions

SECTION 5. Substitutions


ARTICLE 1. Substitution Procedures


Any number of legal substitutes for either team may enter the game between periods, after a score or try, or during the interval between downs only for the purpose of replacing a player(s) or filling a player vacancy(ies).

ARTICLE 2. Legal Substitutions


A legal substitute may replace a player or fill a player vacancy provided none of the following restrictions are violated:

  1. No incoming substitute shall enter the field of play or an end zone while the ball is in play.

  2. No player, in excess of 11, shall leave the field of play or an end zone while the ball is in play (A.R. 3-5-2:I)

  3. PENALTY – [a-b] Live-ball foul. Five yards from the previous spot [S22].


    1. An incoming legal substitute must enter the field of play directly from his team area, and a substitute, player or departing player must depart at the sideline nearest his team area and proceed to his team area.

    2. A departing player must immediately leave the field of play, including the end zones. A departing player who leaves the huddle or his position within three seconds, after a substitute becomes a player, is considered to have left immediately.

  4. Substitutes who become players (Rule 2-27-9) must remain in the game for at least one play and replaced players must remain out of the game for at least one play, except during the interval between periods, after a score, or when a timeout is charged to a team or to the referee with the exception of a live ball out of bounds or an incomplete forward pass (A.R. 3-5-2:III and VII)

  5. PENALTY – [c-d] Dead-ball foul. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S22].
  6. When Team A sends in its substitutes, the officials will not allow the ball to be snapped until Team B has been given an opportunity to substitute. While in the process of substitution or simulated substitution, Team A is prohibited from rushing quickly to the line of scrimmage with the obvious attempt of creating a defensive disadvantage. If the ball is ready for play, the game officials will not permit the ball to be snapped until Team B has placed substitutes in position and replaced players have left the field of play. Team B must react promptly with its substitutes.

  7. PENALTY – (First offence) Dead-ball foul. Delay of game on Team B for not completing its substitutions promptly, or delay of game on Team A for causing the play clock to expire. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S21]. The referee will then notify the head coach that any further use of this tactic will result in an unsportsmanlike conduct foul.

    PENALTY – (Second or more offence) Dead-ball foul, team unsportsmanlike conduct. An official will sound his whistle immediately. 15 yards from the succeeding spot. [S27].


Approved ruling 3-5-2


  1. Any player(s), in excess of 11, obviously is withdrawing but has not reached a boundary line when the ball is put in play and he does not interfere with play or players. RULING: Live-ball foul. Penalty – Five yards from the previous spot. [Cited by 3-5-2-b]
  2. After a change of team possession or any timeout, the ball is declared ready for play. When Team A has completed its offensive formation, Team B must promptly position its personnel. Team B will be allowed time to complete substitutions. RULING: Either team is subject to a delay-of-game foul – Team B for not completing its substitutions promptly (Rule 3-4-2-b-3) or Team A for causing the 25 second clock to expire. Penalty – Five yards from the succeeding spot.
  3. On third down (no change of team possession), ball carrier A27 goes out of bounds or Team A’s legal forward pass falls incomplete. During this interval between downs, there is no other referee’s timeout. Before the fourth down snap, substitute B75 enters the game and then departs without remaining in the game for one play. RULING: Dead-ball foul. Penalty – Five yards from the succeeding spot. [Cited by 3-5-2-d]
  4. Team A has 11 players in the huddle. A81 mistakenly thinks he has been replaced and runs to his team area. He is immediately sent back onto the field and assumes a position on the line of scrimmage near his sideline. The entire team has been stationary for one second before the snap and there has not been a referee’s timeout. RULING: Live-ball foul. A player loses his status as a participant when he enters the team area while the ball is dead, and then must adhere to substitution rules. Penalty – Five yards from the previous spot, or 15 yards from the previous spot if this is judged to be a violation of Rule 9-2-2-b. (Rules 3-5-2-d and 9-2-2-b).
  5. After the ball is ready for play and the umpire is in his regular position, Team A quickly replaces some players with substitutes, gets set for the required one second and snaps the ball. The umpire is attempting to get to the ball to allow the defense to match up, but he is unable to prevent the snap. RULING: The play is shut down, the game clock is stopped and the defense is allowed to substitute in response to Team A’s late substitutions. No foul. The play clock is set to 25 seconds and starts on the ready-for-play signal. The game clock starts on the ready-for-play signal or the snap, depending on its condition when play was stopped. The referee informs the Team A head coach that any subsequent such actions will result in a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct under Rule 9-2-3.
  6. Between scrimmage downs, one or more Team B substitutes enter the field of play. Before the snap for the next down, more than 11 Team B players intentionally stay on the field of play as long as possible (over three seconds) to disguise the defensive personnel, the type of defense and the pass coverage. RULING: Dead-ball foul on Team B, illegal substitution. Penalty — Five yards from the succeeding spot (Rule 3-5-2-c).
  7. After a down that resulted in first and 10 at the B-40, eleven players of Team A, which runs a no-huddle offense, move to their various positions to set for the next play. The ball is ready for play when A22 runs onto the field from his team area, and after he pauses at the top of the numbers, he or the coaching staff apparently realizes that he is the 12th player. A22 then turns and runs back to his team area. The ball has not been snapped. RULING: Dead-ball foul for a substitution infraction. By interpretation A22 has become a player by entering his team’s “effective huddle” and thus must remain in the game for one play. Five-yard penalty. Team A will have first and 15 at the B-45. (Rule 2-27-9-b) [Cited by 3-5-2-d]
  8. Late in the first half Team A is out of timeouts. A pass play on third down ends inbounds at the B-25 short of the line to gain with the game clock showing 0:10. Facing fourth down and three, Team A immediately hurries its field goal team onto the field. RULING: Team B should reasonably expect that Team A will attempt a field goal in this situation and should have its field-goal defense unit ready. The umpire will not stand over the ball, as there should be no issue of the defense being uncertain about the next play.
  9. Late in the first half Team A is out of timeouts. A pass play on third down ends inbounds at the B-25 short of the line to gain with the game clock showing 0:30. Facing fourth down and three, Team A gives no indication as to its next play until the game clock reads 0:10. They then rush their field goal unit onto the field, and Team B then hurries to respond. RULING: The umpire moves to the ball to prevent the snap until Team B has had a reasonable opportunity to get its field-goal defense unit onto the field. The umpire will step away when he judges that the defense has had enough time. If the game clock reads 0:00 before the ball is snapped after the umpire steps away, the half is over.

ARTICLE 3. More than eleven players on the field



  1. Team A may not break the huddle with more than 11 players nor keep more than 11 players in the huddle or in a formation for more than three seconds. Officials shall stop the action whether or not the ball has been snapped.

  2. Team B is allowed to briefly retain more than 11 players on the field to anticipate the offensive formation, but it may not have more than 11 players in its formation if the snap is imminent. Whether the snap is imminent or has just occurred, the officials shall stop the action. (A.R. 3-5-3:IV)

  3. PENALTY –
    [a-b] Dead-ball foul. Five yards at the succeeding spot. [S22]

  4. If the officials do not detect the excessive number of players until during the down or after the down is over, or if Team B players have entered the field just before the snap but have not been in the formation, the infraction is treated as a live-ball foul. (A.R. 3-5-3:V-VI)

  5. PENALTY –
    Live-ball foul. Five yards at the previous spot. [S22]

Approved ruling 3-5-3


  1. A33, an incoming substitute, enters the huddle or assumes a position in a formation and (a) after approximately two seconds, A34 leaves the huddle and departs the field of play at his sideline, or (b) after approximately four seconds, A34 leaves the huddle and departs the field of play at his sideline. RULING: (a) Legal. (b) Foul. (Note: A departing player who leaves the huddle or his position within three seconds is considered to have left immediately.)
  2. After the ball is made ready for play, substitute B12 enters the huddle or defensive formation and the departing player delays more than three seconds before leaving the huddle or formation and departing the field of play. RULING: Violation of the substitution rule. Dead-ball foul. (Note: The referee is not required to warn a departing player to leave the huddle immediately.)
  3. Team A has 11 players in its huddle when A27 approaches the huddle (within 10 yards) as it breaks. RULING: Dead-ball foul. Penalty – Five yards from the succeeding spot (Rule 2-27-9-a).
  4. At the end of third down, Team B sends in its kick-return team. The responsible officials count the Team B players and are positive that Team B has 12 players on the field of play. After approximately four seconds, the officials sound their whistles and drop their penalty markers. RULING: Dead-ball foul, substitution violation. Penalty — Five yards from the succeeding spot. [Cited by 3-5-3-b]
  5. Team A is in formation to kick a field goal and Team B has eleven players in its formation. Just before the ball is snapped a twelfth Team B player runs onto the field. The ball is snapped and the kicker completes his kick. RULING: Live-ball foul. Five-yard penalty, previous spot, or Team A may accept the result of the play. Since Team B’s twelfth player had not been in the formation when the ball was snapped, officials should not shut down the play for a dead-ball foul. The intent of Rule 3-5-3-b is to give Team B an opportunity to adjust its defense, but Team B must not be allowed to gain an advantage by an extra player entering the field very close to the time the ball is snapped. [Cited by 3-5-3-c]
  6. Team A lines up for a two-point try attempt at the B-3. Team B has eleven players in its defensive formation. A twelfth Team B player runs onto the field just before or just as the ball is snapped. A22 takes the handoff from the quarterback and (a) is tackled at the one-yard line; (b) carries the ball into the end zone. RULING: Live-ball foul by Team B for too many players on the field (Rule 1-1-1). Officials should not shut the play down. (a) Penalize Team B half the distance to the goal and repeat the try at the B-1.5. (b) Team A will decline the penalty on the successful try. [Cited by 3-5-3-c]