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What does "over the Line" Mean?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 23, 2024
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The phrase over the line can have a number of meanings when used in sports. The “line” referred to in the phrase may be the goal line, foul lines, or other important lines on the field, depending on the sport being discussed.

In American football, this phrase can refer to the center line, where the football is hiked to start a play. If a player on the defensive side moves over the line to the side of the offense, or vice versa, a foul may be called for being off sides. The phrase can also refer to reaching a first down, which is something the offense strives to do while working toward a goal. In order to achieve this, the team must move the ball 10 yards by the time it completes four plays. Moving the ball beyond these 10 yards may also be referred to as getting over the line.

In many sports, including American football and soccer, the line may also refer to the goal line. In order for a goal to be scored, the ball must be moved past this point. If the ball is on the line or stops just short of the line, it does not count toward a goal. If any portion of the ball makes it over the line, however, it counts as a completed goal. In American football, this is also typically referred to as breaking the plane.

Over the line may also refer to foul lines. In both American football and soccer, the perimeter of the playing field is surrounded by a line. If the ball is kicked over this line in soccer, the game is stopped and the ball must be put back in play. The method for putting the ball back in play depends on which team kicked the ball over the foul line and which line was crossed. In American football, a player carrying the ball may cross over the line. When this occurs, the play clock is stopped and a new play is started. Crossing the line and stopping the clock counts as one of the team’s downs.

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Discussion Comments
By Reminiscence — On Nov 12, 2014

I couldn't help but think of the old song "One Toke Over The Line" when I found this article. There's always a line that shouldn't be crossed, whether it's in sports or business or life, and sometimes people have to pay a price for crossing it anyway.

By Cageybird — On Nov 12, 2014

When I read the title of this article, I thought it was going to be about the figurative sense of going "over the line". I was thinking more along the line of stepping past an established boundary or pushing something past its natural limitations. I wasn't expecting a sports definition.

But the more I think about it, the expression "over the line" works equally well in both worlds. It seems like a lot of sports have rules determined by players either stepping over a line or not quite reaching a line. In football, it's all about crossing over the ten yard line and gaining a new set of downs. The only way to score points is for someone to break the plane of a goal line. Crossing over the line of scrimmage before a play starts is also a violation of the rules.

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