Game play in American football consists of a series of downs, individual plays of short duration, outside of which the ball is dead or not in play. These can be plays from scrimmage – passes, runs, punts, or field goal attempts (from either a place kick or a drop kick) – or free kicks such as kickoffs and fair catch kicks. Substitutions can be made between downs, which allows for a great deal of specialization as coaches choose the players best suited for each particular situation. During a play, each team should have no more than 11 players on the field, and each of them has specific tasks assigned for that specific play.
The objective of this game is to score more points than the other team during the allotted time. The team with the ball (the offense) has 4 plays (downs) to advance at least 10 yards, and can score points once they reach the opposite end of the field, which is home to a scoring zone called the end zone, as well as the goal posts. If the offense succeeds in advancing at least 10 yards, they earn a "first down" and the number of tries allotted is reset and they are again given 4 tries to advance an additional 10 yards, starting from the spot to which they last advanced. If the offense does not advance at least 10 yards during their 4 downs, the team without the ball (the defense) regains control of the ball (called turnover on downs).
On offense, points are scored by advancing the ball into the opponent's end zone for a touchdown (worth six points), or by kicking the ball from the playing field through the raised vertical posts (the goal posts) which are most commonly situated on the end line of the end zone for a field goal (worth three points). After scoring a touchdown, the offense is given an additional opportunity from the 2-yard line (3-yard line in amateur football) to attempt to score (in the NFL, 15-yard line on 1-point conversions). Conversion attempts are used to score 1 or 2 points as follows:
While the opposing team has possession, the defense attempts to prevent the offense from advancing the ball and scoring. If an offensive player loses the ball during play (a fumble) or the ball is caught by a defensive player while still in the air (an interception), the defense may attempt to run into the offense's end zone for a touchdown. The defense may also score points by tackling the ball carrier in the offense's own end zone, called a safety (which is worth two points).
Collegiate and professional football games are 60 minutes long, divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. In high school football, 12 minute quarters are usually played. The clock is stopped frequently, however, with the result that a typical college or professional game can exceed three hours in duration. The referee controls the game clock and stops the clock after any incomplete pass or any play that ends out of bounds. In addition, each team is allowed 3 timeouts in each half that they may use at their own discretion. The clock normally runs during the action of plays, with a few exceptions known as untimed plays.
The clock may also be stopped for an officials' time-out, after which, if the clock was running, it is restarted. For example: if there is a question whether or not a team has moved the ball far enough for a first down, the officials may use a measuring device (the chains) to determine the distance. While this measurement is taking place, the officials will signal for a stoppage of the clock. Once the measurement is finished and the ball is placed at the proper location (spotted), the referee will then signal for the clock to restart. Additional situations where officials may take a time-out are to administer a penalty or for an injured player to be removed from the field.
In addition to the game clock, a separate play clock is also used. This counts down the time the offense has to start the next play before it is assessed a penalty for delay of game (see below). This clock is typically 25 seconds from when the referee marks the ball ready for play. The NFL and NCAA use a 40-second play clock that starts immediately after the previous play ends, though for certain delays, such as penalty enforcement, the offense has 25 seconds from when the ball is marked ready. The purpose of the play clock is to ensure that the game progresses at a consistent pace, preventing unnecessary delays. Overall, clock management is a significant part of the game; teams leading toward the end of the game will often try to run out the clock, while trailing teams attempt the opposite.
Officials also call for media time-outs, which allow time for television and radio advertising. They also stop the clock after a change of possession of the ball from one team to the other. Successful PATs (Point(s) After Touchdown), a field goal try, or a kickoff may also warrant stopping the clock. If an instant replay challenge is called during the game, the referees signal for a media time out. The referee signals these media time-outs by first using the time out signal, then extending both arms in a horizontal position.
Teams change ends of the field at the end of the first quarter and the end of the third quarter, though otherwise the situation on the field regarding possession, downs remaining and distance-to-goal does not change at these occasions (so a team with possession 5 yards from the opponent's endzone at the end of the first quarter would resume play 5 yards from the endzone at the other end of the field, which they would then be attacking) . Separating the first and second halves is halftime. Both halves, and any overtime, begin with kick-offs — the kicking team is decided by a coin toss (see below).
In the NFL, an automatic timeout is called by the officials when there are two minutes left in both the second and the fourth quarters, and overtime; this is most commonly referred to as the two-minute warning. No such warning is normally given in amateur football, though if there is no visible stadium clock, the referee will give a two-minute warning (four minutes in high school).
If a game is tied at the end of four quarters, overtime is played. In overtime, the coin is tossed to determine which team will possess the ball first. The winner of the coin toss can choose to give the ball or receive the ball. If the first possession results in a field goal, the other team is given possession to match or better the field goal; therefore continuing the game. If the first possession results in a touchdown or safety, the scoring team wins. During the regular season in the NFL, one overtime period is played (with each team receiving two time outs). If both teams are tied after the 10-minute overtime, the game officially ends in a tie. In the playoffs, 15-minute overtime periods continue until a winner is determined. Overtime follows a three-minute intermission after the end of the regulation game. Prior to start of overtime, a coin flip is performed in which the captain of the visiting team calls the toss. The team that wins the coin flip has the option either to receive the kickoff or choose the side of the field they wish to defend. Ties are rare in the NFL; a game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on September 16, 2018 ended in a 29–all draw. The previous occurrence was one week earlier, on September 9, 2018.
Prior to the 2010 playoffs, the overtime winner was simply the first team to score any points; however, the rules were changed to reduce the apparent advantage obtained by the team that won the overtime coin toss. Under the prior rules, the team that won the coin toss would usually elect to receive the ball, then gain just enough yardage to win the game by kicking a field goal without the other team ever touching the ball. The coin toss winner won approximately 60% of overtime games under that rule.
The first overtime game played under a trial of the new overtime rules occurred in the 2011–2012 NFL AFC Wildcard Playoff game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado. Denver won the game on the first play in overtime, an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas. The rule was formally adopted for the 2012 season, and the first game in which both teams scored in overtime was a 43–37 victory by the Houston Texans over the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 18, 2012.
The rules for overtime changed for the 2016–2017 season and were tweaked again for the 2017–2018 season. The NFL's overtime rules are still subject to criticism, as a team that loses the coin toss and goes on to conceded the touchdown does not get a chance for their offense to take the field.
Super Bowl LI was the first Super Bowl to go into overtime with a 28-all tie between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, which the Patriots eventually won with James White scoring a touchdown on the Patriots' first drive.
The 2018-19 NFC and AFC championship games both went to overtime, the first time for such an occurrence. In the NFC title game, the New Orleans Saints won the coin toss but an interception allowed the Los Angeles Rams to drive into range to kick the winning field goal. In the AFC Championship held later that day, the New England Patriots won the coin toss and on their first drive scored the winning touchdown over the Kansas City Chiefs.
NFL Europa, a defunct league run by the NFL, used a 10-minute overtime period, with the constraint that each team must have the opportunity of possession; once both teams have had such an opportunity, the overtime proceeds in a manner similar to the NFL's. Thus, if Team A has the first possession of overtime and scores a touchdown and converts their kick (thus being 7 points ahead of Team B), Team A would then kick off to Team B (In the NFL, the game would have ended with the touchdown, without a conversion being attempted). Team B would have to match or exceed the 7 point difference within this ensuing possession; exceeding it would end the game immediately, while matching the difference would result in a kickoff to Team A. From this point, the overtime is sudden death. The defunct United Football League had also used this rule.
The defunct World Football League, in its first season of 1974, used an overtime system more analogous to the system long used in international soccer. The overtime consisted of one 15-minute period, which was played in its entirety and divided into two halves of 7½ minutes each, with each half starting with a kickoff by one of the teams. The league changed to the NFL's sudden-death format for its final season in 1975.
In college and high school football, an overtime procedure (the Kansas plan) ensures that each team has equal opportunity to score. In college, both teams are granted possession of the ball at their opponents' 25 yard-line in succession. A coin flip takes place, with the winning team having the option either 1) to declare that they will take the ball first or second, or 2) to decide on which end of the field the series will occur (both teams' series occur on the same end of the field). The losing team will have the first option in any subsequent even-numbered overtime. In the first overtime, the team with first series attempts to score either a touchdown or a field goal; their possession ends when either a touchdown or a field goal have been scored, they turn the ball over via a fumble or an interception, or they fail to gain a first down. After a touchdown, a team may attempt either an extra-point or a two-point conversion. However, if the team on defense during the first series recovers a fumble and returns it for a touchdown, or returns an interception for a touchdown, the defensive team wins the game. (This is the only way for a college overtime game to end without both teams having possession.) Otherwise, regardless of the outcome of the first team's series (be it touchdown, field goal, or turnover), the other team begins their series. If the score remains tied after both teams have completed a series, a second overtime begins. If the score remains tied after two overtimes, teams scoring touchdowns are required to attempt a two-point conversion from the third overtime on. Just as in regulation, if a defensive team recovers a fumble/returns an interception to the end zone during a two-point conversion attempt, they will receive two points.
In high school football, individual state associations can choose any overtime format they want, or even elect to not play overtime at all (ties stand in this case). However, most states use the Kansas Plan. In a majority of states, each team is granted possession of the ball at the 10-yard line, meaning that a team cannot make a first down without scoring except via a defensive penalty that carries an automatic first down (such as defensive pass interference or roughing the passer). As is the case with the college overtime rule, the team that wins the coin toss will have the choice as to whether to take the ball first or second, or decide at which end of the field the overtime will be played. The other major difference between overtime in college football and high school football is that in high school football, if the defense forces a turnover, the ball is dead immediately, thus eliminating the possibility of scoring. However, in Texas, the college overtime rule is used, as both the University Interscholastic League, which governs interscholastic activities for Texas public high schools, and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the largest analogous body for Texas private high schools, play by NCAA football rules with a few modifications for the high school level. Massachusetts also is another state that uses NCAA-style overtime rules.
The defunct XFL used a modified Kansas Plan which, upon the first team scoring, required the opponent to score the same or greater number of points in the same or fewer downs (i.e., if the first team scored a touchdown, and converted the one-point conversion in three downs, the opponent would have to match that touchdown and conversion in three downs as well). Each team started at the 20-yard line, but like high school, there were no opportunities for first downs. The league also banned field goals except on a fourth down.
Three minutes before the start of the game, the referee meets with captains from both teams for a coin toss. The visiting team calls the toss. The winner of the toss may defer their choice to the start of the second half, or they may take first choice of:
The loser of the toss gets the remaining option.
At the start of the second half, the team that did not choose first (either because they deferred their choice or because they lost the toss) gets the first choice of options.
According to USA Today, in college games, the team that wins the toss defers their choice to the start of the second half over 90% of the time.
If a game goes to overtime, a coin toss is held before the start of overtime, but tosses are not held before the start of subsequent overtime periods. In college, for example, the loser of the toss to start overtime has first choice in the second overtime period. The choices available to the captains in overtime vary among the NFL, college, and various states' high school rules.
In high school, the coin toss may be held between the captains or coaches earlier before the start of the game. At three minutes before kickoff, the captains meet for a simulated coin toss, where the referee announces the results of the earlier toss.
The XFL did not implement a coin toss; instead an event took place called the "opening scramble", in which one player from each team fought to recover a football 20 yards away to determine possession. Both players lined up side-by-side on one of the 30-yard lines, with the ball being placed at the 50-yard line. At the whistle, the two players would run toward the ball and attempt to gain possession; whichever player gained possession first was allowed to choose possession (as if he had won a coin toss in other leagues).
The rules vary from the college level to the professional level. In the NFL, unless you are tagged by an opposing player or give yourself up, you are not down. A player carrying the ball (the runner) is downed when any of the following occurs:
The majority of a football game takes place on plays, or downs, that begin at the line of scrimmage. The officials spot the ball (place it in a designated spot on the field) on the line of scrimmage and declare it ready for play.
The width of the spotted football defines the width of the neutral zone, an area of the field no player other than the snapper may position himself in or above before the snap. Each team has its own line of scrimmage, thought of as a vertical plane from sideline to sideline that passes through the point of the ball nearest its own goal line.
A typical offense is made up of a quarterback, five offensive linemen, two wide receivers, a running back, a fullback, and a tight end, however teams will vary their personnel on the field to fit any given play. A quarterback is essentially the leader of the offense. It is most often their responsibility to pass along the play called to the rest of the players in the huddle before any given play. A quarterback is the primary ball handler on offense. It is their responsibility to call the snap count for the ball to enter play. Once the ball is hiked into play, it is their job to either hand the ball off to one of their running backs, or scout the field for an open receiver to throw the ball to. In some instances, the quarterback will run the ball themselves. A quarterback is guarded by their offensive linemen. The offensive line is made up of a left and right tackle, a left and right guard, and a center. It is the center's responsibility to hike the ball to the quarterback. An offensive line has two different jobs. When the offense runs a pass play, it is their job to guard the quarterback from the defense that are rushing. When the offense runs a run play, it is their job to clear a path for the running back to run through. The running back also has multiple roles. They will either take the ball from the quarterback and run, move up and help the offensive line block, or go out and catch a pass. While the role of the fullback is deteriorating currently among professional leagues, it is their primary responsibility to lead the running back. Running backs and fullbacks are sometimes also called a halfback, a wingback, or a slotback. Like the running back, the tight end also has multiple roles. They will either help the offensive line protect the quarterback, block on run plays, or run or catch the ball themselves. The wide receivers primary role is to run out into the field of play and catch the ball, although they will also block in some instances.
The players on offense must arrange themselves in a formation, all behind their line of scrimmage (that is, on their side of the ball). For reasons of safety and competitive balance, there are strict rules which define the way in which the offensive players may line up. Seven players must line up directly on the line of scrimmage while four players line up behind the line of scrimmage. Within this formation, there are six eligible receivers who may receive a forward pass during play. These eligible receivers are either the running back, fullback, tight end, or wide receivers. The remaining five linemen, often called interior linemen do not normally handle the ball during a play. Because of these rules, various leagues of American football have enacted strict rules of uniform numbering so officials may more easily judge which players were eligible and which were not at the start of a play. For example, in college football, ineligible players wear numbers 50–79, while eligible receivers wear 1–49 or 80–99. Even within this structure, offenses can still present a wide number of formations, so long as they maintain the "seven and four" arrangement. Receivers, for example, may play close to the other linemen or they may play some distance down the line of scrimmage, where they would sometimes be called split ends. Of the four backs, they may play behind the linemen, or may play "split out" to provide additional wide receivers. These additional receivers can be flankers (if they play split far wide, but still in the backfield) or slot receivers if they play in the "slot" between the split end and the rest of the offensive line.
The players on defense may arrange themselves in any manner, as long as all players are "behind the line" (that is, on the side of the line nearest their own end zone). Players who line up opposite the offensive line are called defensive linemen, usually with one or two defensive tackles in the middle (a single defensive tackle is often called the nose guard or nose tackle) and with one defensive end on each side. A defensive lineman's job is typically to put pressure on the opposing teams quarterback by rushing the offensive line. The defensive line is also most often the first set of players the opponent must get through should they choose to run the ball. Behind the linemen are the linebackers. A linebackers job can be any number of things, including trying to rush the opposing teams quarterback, stopping the opponents running back on run plays, or covering the opponents tight end or wide receivers. Positioned opposite the wide receivers are the cornerbacks. Their primary responsibility is to cover the wide receivers. Farthest back from the line are the safeties, usually in the middle of the field behind the linebackers. The safeties are the last line of defense against the opponent. Like a linebacker, a safety's role can vary, however their most common role is to help the cornerbacks cover the opponent's wide receivers, which is called "double coverage". The linemen and linebackers close to the line of scrimmage, are often referred to as playing "in the box". Players outside "the box" (usually cornerbacks and safeties) are collectively referred to as the "secondary".
A scrimmage down begins with a snap, where the center throws or hands the ball backward to one of the backs, usually the quarterback. The quarterback then either hands the ball off to a back, throws the ball, or runs with it himself. The down ends when the ball becomes dead (see below). The ball is typically next spotted where the ball became dead; however, if it became dead outside the hash marks, it is brought in on the same yard line to the nearest hash mark. This spot becomes the line of scrimmage for the next play. In the case of an incomplete forward pass, the ball is returned to the spot where it was last snapped to begin the next play. A fumbled ball that goes out of bounds is declared dead and possession remains with the team that most recently had control of the ball.
The ball becomes dead, and the down ends, when:
The nearest official typically blows his whistle after the ball becomes dead to alert the players that the down has already ended. If the ball is alive and the official sounds an inadvertent whistle, then the ball still becomes dead, but the team in possession of the ball may elect to have the down replayed or take the spot where the ball was declared dead. If the ball was loose from a fumble, then the ball can be put into play at the spot of the fumble. If the ball was in flight from a kick or a pass, then the down is always replayed.
A free kick is a down which does not occur from scrimmage. The kicking team begins behind the ball, while the receiving team must remain at least 10 yards downfield before the ball is kicked.
A kickoff is a type of free kick where the ball is placed on a tee (or held) at the kicking team's 35-yard line (40 for high school). In the 2011 NFL Season, changes were made regarding kickoffs to limit injuries. Kickoffs were returned from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, repealing a 1994 rule change. In addition, players on the kickoff coverage team cannot line up more than 5 yards behind the kickoff line, minimizing running starts and thus reducing the speed of collisions. The kicking team's players may not cross this line until the ball is kicked; members of the non-kicking (or "receiving") team are similarly restrained behind a line 10 yards further downfield (the 45-yard line, or 50 for high school). A valid kickoff must travel at least this 10-yard distance to the receiving team's restraining line, after which any player of either team may catch or pick up the ball and try to advance it (a member of the kicking team may only recover a kickoff and may not advance it) before being downed (see "Downed player," below). In most cases, the ball is kicked as far as possible (typically 40 to 70 yards), after which a player of the receiving team is usually able to secure possession (since the members of the kicking team cannot start downfield until after the ball is kicked). Occasionally, for tactical reasons, the kicking team may instead choose to attempt an onside kick, in which the kicker tries to kick the ball along the ground just over the required 10-yard distance in such a manner that one of his own teammates can recover the ball for the kicking side. If it is touched before ten yards, the ball is dead and a re-kick or spot of the ball will be rewarded to the receiving team.
A member of the receiving team gaining possession of the ball on a kickoff may attempt to advance it as far as he can toward the kicking team's goal line before being downed. Once the ball carrier is downed, the play is whistled dead and the ball is placed by the officials at the point where the play ended; this spot then becomes the line of scrimmage for the ensuing play. A kick that travels through or goes out of bounds within the end zone without being touched, or is caught by the receiving team in the end zone but not advanced out of it, results in a touchback; the ball is then placed at the receiving team's 25-yard line, which becomes the line of scrimmage.
A kickoff that goes out of bounds anywhere other than the end zone before being touched by the receiving team is an illegal kick: the receiving team has the option of having the ball re-kicked from five yards closer to the kicking team's goal line, or they may choose to take possession of the ball at the point where it went out of bounds or 30 yards from the point of the kick (25 yards in high school, and in college as of 2012), whichever is more advantageous.
A free kick is also used to restart the game following a safety. The team that was trapped in its own end zone, therefore conceding two points to the other team, kicks the ball from its own 20-yard line. This can be a place kick (in the NFL, a tee cannot be used), drop kick or punt.
In the NFL and high school, a free kick may be taken on the play immediately after a fair catch; see "fair catch kick" below.
A field goal is scored when the ball is place kicked, drop kicked, or free kicked after a fair catch or awarded fair catch (High School or NFL only) between the goal posts behind the opponent's end zone. The most common type of kick used is the place kick. For a place kick, the ball must first be snapped to a placeholder, who holds the ball upright on the ground with his fingertip so that it may be kicked. Three points are scored if the ball crosses between the two upright posts and above the crossbar and remains over. If a field goal is missed, the ball is returned to the original line of scrimmage (in the NFL, to the spot of the kick; in high school, to the 20-yard line if the ball enters the end zone, or otherwise where the ball becomes dead after the kick) or to the 20-yard line if that is further from the goal line, and possession is given to the other team. If the ball does not go out of bounds, the other team may catch the kicked ball and attempt to advance it, but this is usually not advantageous. One official is positioned under each goalpost; if either one rules the field goal no good, then the field goal is unsuccessful. A successful field goal is signaled by an official extending both arms vertically above the head. A team that successfully kicks a field goal kicks off to the opposing team on the next play.
A touchdown is earned when a player has legal possession of the ball and the ball touches or goes over the imaginary vertical plane above the opposing team's goal line. After a touchdown, the scoring team attempts a try for 1 or 2 points (see below). A successful touchdown is signaled by an official extending both arms vertically above the head. A touchdown is worth six points, except in the defunct WFL where it was worth seven points.
For statistical purposes, the player who advances the ball into or catches it in the end zone is credited with the touchdown. If a forward pass was thrown on the play, the throwing player is also credited with a passing touchdown.
A try is more frequently called an extra-point attempt or a PAT (abbreviation of "Point After Touchdown"). Either one or two additional points may be scored during the try. The ball is spotted at the 15-yard line (for 1-point conversions); 2-yard line (for 2-point conversions) for the NFL and on 3-yard line for college and high school, and the team is given one un-timed play to earn points.
The uncommon safety is scored if a player causes the ball to become dead in his own end zone; two points are awarded to the opposing (usually defending) team. This can happen if a player is either downed or goes out of bounds in the end zone while carrying the ball, or if he fumbles the ball, and it goes out of bounds in the end zone. A safety is also awarded to the defensive team if the offensive team commits a foul which is enforced in its own end zone. A safety is not awarded if a player intercepts a pass or receives a kick in his own end zone and is downed there. This situation, in which the opponent caused the ball to enter the end zone, is called a touchback; no points are scored, and the team that gained possession of the ball is awarded possession at its own 20-yard line. If the interception or reception occurs outside the end zone, and the player is carried into the end zone by momentum, the ball is placed at the spot of the catch and no safety is awarded. A safety is signaled by a referee holding both palms together above the head, fingertips pointing upwards. After a safety, the team that conceded the safety kicks a free kick (which may be a punt, place kick, or drop kick) from its 20-yard line.
A free kick (see above) may be taken on the play immediately after any fair catch of a punt. In the NFL, if the receiving team elects to attempt this and time expired during the punt, the half/overtime is extended with an untimed down. The ball must be held on the ground by a member of the kicking team or drop kicked; a tee may not be used. (High school kickers may use a tee). This is both a field goal attempt and a free kick; if the ball is kicked between the goal posts, three points are scored for the kicking team. This is the only case where a free kick may score points. This method of scoring is extremely rare, last successfully completed in the NFL by Ray Wersching in 1976. It is only advantageous when a team catches a very short punt with very little time left. Note that a team is unlikely to be punting with only a few seconds left in a half or overtime, and it is rarer still for punts to be caught near field goal range. The officials' signal for a successful fair catch kick is the same as for a field goal.
The game is officiated by a crew of three to seven officials. Every crew will consist of a referee, who is generally in charge of the game and watches action on the quarterback and in the offensive backfield; an umpire, who handles spotting the ball and watches action on the offensive line; and a head linesman, who supervises placement of the down box and line-to-gain chains. The crew may also consist of a line judge, back judge, field judge and side judge, in the order listed: i.e. a crew of five officials has a referee, umpire, head linesman, line judge and back judge.
Officials are selected by the teams in advance or appointed by the governing league. While the majority of officials at lower levels only officiate games on a part-time basis, the NFL is implementing a new system where seven officials will become full-time employees of the league, one for each official position (i.e. back judge, field judge, side judge, etc.). In the other three major North American professional sports leagues – Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL – officials are employed by their respective leagues. The sheer volume of games in the other three sports necessitates full-time officials; the NFL regular season is only 16 games long, compared to 162 games for MLB and 82 for the NBA and NHL.
During the game, the officials are assisted in the administration of the game by other persons, including: a clock operator to start and stop the game clock (and possibly also the play clock); a chain crew who hold the down indicator and the line-to-gain chains on the sideline; and ball boys, who provide footballs to officials between downs (e.g. a dry ball each down on a wet day). These individuals may be provided by the teams involved – it is common for a high school coach's son or daughter to act as ball boy for the team.
Because football is a high-contact sport requiring a balance between offense and defense, many rules exist that regulate equality, safety, contact, and actions of players on each team. It is very difficult to always avoid violating these rules without giving up too much of an advantage. Thus, an elaborate system of fouls and penalties has been developed to "let the punishment fit the crime" and maintain a balance between following the rules and keeping a good flow of the game. Players are constantly looking for ways to find an advantage that stretches the limitations imposed by the rules. Also, the frequency and severity of fouls can make a large difference in the outcome of a game, so coaches are constantly looking for ways to minimize the number and severity of infractions committed by their players.
It is a common misconception that the term "penalty" is used to refer both to an infraction and the penal consequence of that infraction. A foul is a rule infraction for which a penalty is prescribed. Some of the more common fouls are listed below. In most cases when a foul occurs, the offending team will be assessed a penalty of 5, 10 or 15 yards, depending on the foul. Also, in most cases, if the foul is committed while the ball is in play, the down will be replayed from the new position (for example, if the offense commits a foul on a first-down play, the next play will still be first down, but the offense may have to go 15 yards, or farther, to achieve another first down.) But if a defensive foul results in the ball advancing beyond the offense's first-down objective, the next play will be the first down of a new series. Some penalties (typically for more serious fouls), however, require a loss of down for the offense; and some defensive fouls may result in an automatic first down regardless of the ball position.
In all cases (except for ejection of a player or, in rare cases, forfeiture of the game), the non-offending team is given the option of declining the penalty and letting the result of the play stand (although the Referee may exercise this option on their behalf when it is obvious), if they believe it to be more to their advantage. For some fouls by the defense, the penalty is applied in addition to the yardage gained on the play. Most personal fouls, which involve danger to another player, carry 15-yard penalties; in rare cases, they result in offending players being ejected from the game. In the NFL, if a defensive foul occurs after time has expired at the end of a half, the half will be continued for a single, untimed play from scrimmage. Under college rules, any accepted penalty when time has expired at the end of any quarter results in an extension for one untimed down.
In the NFL, with three exceptions, no penalty may move the ball more than half the distance toward the penalized team's goal line. These exceptions are defensive pass interference (see the discussion of that foul for more details), intentional grounding, and offensive holding – but in this last case the exception pertains only if the infraction occurs within the offensive team's own end zone, in which case an automatic safety is assessed (intentional grounding from the end zone also carries an automatic safety). Under college rules, the same half-the-distance principle applies, but any offensive fouls involving contact in their end zone (e.g. holding, illegal blocking or personal fouls) result in a safety.
Each team receives three timeouts per half (if the game goes to overtime, each team receives additional timeouts), making for a total of six timeouts per team in a regulation game. Unused timeouts may not carry over to the second half or overtime. In professional football, a team must have at least one remaining timeout to challenge an official's call.
In the NFL, a number of rulings can be reviewed by officials or challenged by coaches. If a coach wants to challenge a play, he must do so before the next play begins, and he does so by throwing a red flag similar to the officials' yellow flags. Coaches are allowed two challenges per game and are granted a third if their first two are successful. The team loses a timeout if they lose the challenge. Therefore, they cannot challenge if they do not have timeouts. Plays within the two-minute-warning and overtime cannot be challenged; any review must be initiated by a replay official off-field. The referee performs the actual review via a video screen on the sideline. The referee will announce the result of instant replay reviews over his wireless microphone.
Beginning in the 2011 NFL Season, an instant replay review by the booth official will now be automatic for every play ruled by the referees on the field to have scored points. This is seen as another step in the "modernization" of sports. Every scoring play will be reviewed now, which saves coaches from using up their challenges on close plays in the endzone. And since the 2012 season, the booth official also reviews all turnovers during the game.
In college, coaches are allowed one challenge per game by first requesting a timeout. Otherwise, a replay official in the press box observes all plays. If he deems a ruling may be in error, he notifies the officials on the field to interrupt the game before the beginning of the next play. The replay official performs the review and relays the decision to the referee, who announces the result. Not every conference employs replay, which is optional.
High school rules do not provide for video review of any decisions by officials during the game. Further, the use of television or video tape for coaching purposes during the game is prohibited. If a coach feels a rule has been misinterpreted, he may call timeout and request a coach-referee conference to discuss the ruling with the referee, but no replay equipment will be consulted during the conference.
Some of the major rule differences between NFL and college football include:
|Number of feet a receiver must have in bounds for a completed pass||Two||One|
|Down by contact rule||Yes, a player is active until he is tackled or forced down by a member of the opposing team||No, a player is automatically ruled down when any part of his body other than the feet or hands touches the ground|
|Penalty for defensive pass interference||Automatic first down at the spot of the foul||Automatic first down, with the lesser of 15 yards from the previous spot or the spot of the foul|
|Clock temporarily stops after a first down||No||Yes|
|Spot where an opposing team takes possession after a missed field goal||The greater of the spot of the kick or the opposing team's 20-yard line||The greater of the previous line of scrimmage or opposing team's 20-yard line|
|Two-minute warning (an automatic time out when two minutes remain in each half/overtime)||Yes||No|
|Starting point of a one- or two-point conversion||2-yard line on 2-point conversions; 15-yard line on 1-point conversions||3-yard line|
|Overtime||Modified sudden death: if the team possessing the ball first scores a field goal, the other team is given one possession to win with touchdown or continue the game by scoring a field goal.
In the regular season, only one 10-minute overtime is played and games may end in a tie. Postseason games play unlimited 15-minute periods until there is a winner.
|Each team is given one possession from its opponent's twenty-five yard line with no game clock. The team leading after both possessions is declared the winner. If the teams remain tied, another overtime is played. Starting with the third overtime, teams are only allowed to attempt two-point conversions after a touchdown.
Games may not end in a tie.
|Instant replay||Coaches are issued two challenges to request a review for all other plays. A third challenge is awarded if both are successful.
Plays during the final two minutes of each half and all overtime periods are subject only to booth review. All turnovers and plays ruled on the field to have scored points are automatically reviewed regardless of game time. Coaches are not allowed to challenge in either situation and are assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if they attempt to do so.
|Each coach receives only one challenge. If that challenge is successful, a second challenge is allowed.
All plays are subject to booth reviews.
1906 in sports describes the year's events in world sport.1916 Santa Clara Missionites football team
The 1916 Santa Clara Broncos football team represented Santa Clara University during the 1916 college football season. In their first and only season under head coach Charlie Austin, the team compiled a 10–0 record, shut out seven of its opponents, and outscored all opponents by a total of 318 to 13. In keeping with West Coast practice during the 1910s, the team played principally under rugby rules rather than American football rules.
The season ended on November 11 with a match between undefeated Santa Clara and undefeated Stanford; Santa Clara won convincingly by a 28–5 score at Ewing Field in San Francisco.2007 International Bowl
The 2007 International Bowl, held on January 6, 2007 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was one of the college American football bowl games that ended the 2006 NCAA Division I FBS football season. The game pitted the University of Cincinnati against Western Michigan University.American Youth Football
American Youth Football (AYF), established in 1996, is an international organization that promotes the development of youth through their association with adult leaders in American football. Rules and regulations ensure players are in a safe environment with a competitive balance between teams. The National Football League (NFL) has made AYF a national youth football partner. The President of American Youth Football is Joe Galat.
AYF allows local members to govern themselves while remaining non-intrusive. AYF has reached all 50 United States and six countries with more than 500,000 participants. AYF admits participants regardless of financial capabilities. AYF programs range from financial grants to leagues which need help, shoes sponsored by Nike, field development in conjunction with FieldTurf, and Rising Stars football camps, which send inner-city kids.
Former NFL players involved with American Youth Football include Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi, Adam Archuleta, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, and Braylon Edwards, in addition to NFL coach Pete Carroll and TV personality and former NFL player Cris Collinsworth.American football (disambiguation)
American football, a sport popularly called football in the United States, is a type of gridiron football.
American football may also refer to:
Football in America (disambiguation)
American football (ball)
American football rules
American football in the United States
Soccer in the United States, U.S. involvement in the sport known as "football" in much of the world
United States Soccer Federation, the official governing body of U.S. soccerIn media:
American Football (band), an American indie rock band
American Football (1999 album), the first eponymous release by the band
American Football (2016 album), the second eponymous release by the band
American Football (2019 album), the third eponymous release by the band
Touch Down Fever: American Football, a 1987 arcade game
"American Football", a 1991 poem written by 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter
American Youth Football, established in 1996, as an international youth football organizationBull College
Bull College was the name commonly used for a branch of the Training Within Civilian Agencies programme of the U.S. Army, which, in Michaelmas 1945 and Lent 1946, allowed American military personnel to study at the University of Cambridge at the conclusion of the second world war. It was named for the Bull Hotel (requisitioned by the British Army from its owner, St Catharine's College and subsequently incorporated into St Catharine's) in which most GIs in the programme were initially billeted. Bull students made an impression on the university, not least through the first participation of a female coxswain in a Cambridge boat race, in the 1946 Lent Bumps. Bull was also involved in a fixture against Pembroke College, in which the first half was played under rugby union rules, and the second under American football rules.In March 1946 it was announced that the US Army's educational programmes would be cancelled. Plans were made to sustain the College on a longer-term basis using charitable funding, but these came to nothing. Bull students were able to witness the 1946 Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race before being recalled to active service. Bull items, including its shield and copies of its student magazine, were transferred to the St Catharine's archives.David Braybrooke, later a Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was amongst the servicemen who participated in 1945.Burnside rules
The Burnside rules were a set of rules that transformed Canadian football from a rugby-style game to the gridiron-style game it has remained ever since. Named after John Thrift Meldrum Burnside, captain of the University of Toronto football team (although he did not originate them), and first adopted by the Ontario Rugby Football Union in 1903, the rules introduced sweeping changes to the way football was played. The rules included:
a reduction from 15 to 12 players per side
a reduction from 8 to 6 men allowed on the line of scrimmage when the ball was put into play
the "snap-back" system in which the ball was passed backward from the line of scrimmage by the centre
a requirement for a team to make ten yards in three successive downs or lose possession of the ballAlthough similar to American football rules already in place at the time, which had been developed by Walter Camp in the 1880s, Burnside rules had many differences and evolved separately. Although these rules are standard today, at the time they were considered radical. Other teams outside the Ontario Rugby Football Union refused to adopt them until 1905.Canada national football junior team
The Canada national football junior team represent Canada in international gridiron football competitions. The football program is part of the football development program and is controlled by Football Canada and is recognized by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). While Football Canada is the governing body for amateur Canadian football, IFAF-sponsored games are played using American football rules. They competed for their first IFAF Junior World Cup in 2009.Canada has also developed the Canada national football junior team as an elite developmental program which participates in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Under-19 World Championship planned to be held every 2 years. This tournament was previously known as the IFAF Junior World Cup.Canada national football team
The Canada national football team represent Canada in international gridiron football competitions. It is controlled by Football Canada and is recognized by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). While Football Canada is the governing body for amateur Canadian football, IFAF-sponsored games are played using American football rules. They competed for their first IFAF World Championship in 2011.Canada has also developed the Canada national football junior team which is an elite developmental program which participates in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Under-19 World Championship planned to be held every 2 years. This tournament was previously known as the IFAF Junior World Cup. Canada won the 2012 Under-19 championship, upsetting the favourite and host team, the United States, to give the US national team its only loss to date in international competition.College football
College football is American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities. It was through college football play that American football rules first gained popularity in the United States.
Unlike most other sports in North America, no minor league farm organizations exist in American or Canadian football. Therefore, college football is generally considered to be the second tier of American football in the United States and Canadian football in Canada; one step ahead of high school competition, and one step below professional competition. However, in some areas of the country, college football is more popular than professional football, and for much of the early 20th century, college football was seen as more prestigious than professional football.
It is in college football where a player's performance directly impacts his chances of playing professional football. The best collegiate players will typically declare for the professional draft after three to four years of collegiate competition, with the NFL holding its annual draft every spring in which 256 players are selected annually. Those not selected can still attempt to land an NFL roster spot as an undrafted free agent.Dean Blandino
Dean Blandino (born c.1972) is an American football rules analyst for National Football League (NFL) and college football games on Fox Sports. He previously served as the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2013 to 2017.East–West Shrine Game
The East–West Shrine Game is a postseason college football all-star game that has been played annually since 1925. The game is sponsored by the fraternal group Shriners International, and the net proceeds are earmarked to some of the Shrine's charitable works, most notably the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The game's slogan is "Strong Legs Run That Weak Legs May Walk".
Teams consist of players from colleges in the Eastern United States vs. the Western United States. Players must be college seniors who are eligible to play for their school. The game and the practice sessions leading up to it attract dozens of scouts from professional teams. Since 1985, Canadian players playing in Canadian university football have also been invited (even though the CIS and NCAA play by different football codes). As such, this is the only bowl or all-star game in either the Canadian or American college football schedules to include players from both Canadian and American universities.
Since 1979, the game has been played in January, and has been played on January 10 or later since 1986. The later game dates allow players from teams whose schools were involved in bowl games to participate, which is important, as these teams often have some of the very best players.Flag football
Flag football is a version of American football where the basic rules of the game are similar to those of the mainstream game (often called "tackle football" for contrast), but instead of tackling players to the ground, the defensive team must remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier ("deflagging") to end a down, and contact is not permitted between players; it will result in a penalty for the team that initiates it.Home (sports)
In sports, home is the place and venue identified with a team sport. Most professional teams are named for, and marketed to, particular metropolitan areas; amateur teams may be drawn from a particular region, or from institutions such as schools or universities. When they play in that venue, they are said to be the "home team"; when the team plays elsewhere, they are the away, visiting, or road team. Home teams wear home colors.Professional football in Canada
Professional football is one of the most popular sports in Canada. Unlike most countries, but paralleling its counterpart, the United States, the term "football" in Canada refers to the gridiron-based game developed in both countries over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and not to association football (which is known in Canada as "soccer").
Only one professional football league has a permanent presence in Canada: the Canadian Football League (CFL), an organization founded in 1958 to accommodate the ongoing trend of professionalism in the Canadian football ranks since the 1940s. The CFL, like most amateur Canadian football leagues, plays on a larger field using a rulebook with several significant rule differences compared to the game as it is played in the United States. The league is composed of two divisions and nine teams in most of the largest Canadian markets, with at least one team in each province between British Columbia (BC Lions) and Quebec (Montreal Alouettes) inclusive. The only presence in Atlantic Canada is a semi-regular series of games in Moncton (Touchdown Atlantic) and a smattering of earlier preseason contests. The CFL operates a two-week preseason beginning in June, an 18-game season from July to October, and a six-team playoff tournament, culminating in the Grey Cup on the fourth weekend of November.
Several attempts to place franchises playing American football rules in Canada have occurred over the course of history:
The Los Angeles Wildcats of the American Football League (1926), as part of its traveling schedule, played one of its games in Toronto. The game introduced the first forward passes on Canadian soil (Canadian football would not allow the move until three years later).
The Quebec Rifles joined the United Football League (1961–1964) in the league's final year, then relocated to Toronto and joined the Continental Football League for two seasons (1965–67) and were known as the Toronto Rifles. The Continental Football League placed another franchise in Montreal, known as the Montreal Beavers, who played for two seasons (1966–67); a third, the Victoria Steelers (originally of the semi-pro Pacific Football League), played one season (1967) in the Continental league.
The Toronto Northmen were a World Football League franchise, but never played a game due to the Canadian Football Act, which was proposed for fears that the WFL might usurp the CFL. The mere threat of the Act's passage prompted the franchise to leave Canada before playing; it became the Memphis Southmen. (The WFL would play one game in London without objections.) Likewise, an attempt to put what would become the United States Football League's Tampa Bay Bandits in Hamilton was thwarted when a Senator threatened to reintroduce the Act.
The Montreal Machine were a World League of American Football franchise who played two seasons in 1991 and 1992.The Toronto Phantoms were a franchise of the Arena Football League who played two seasons in 2001 and 2002. Until 2017, they were the only professional indoor American football team to have attempted to take root in Canada; a second attempt, the Niagara Spartans (run by the established semi-pro Steel City Patriots team in the Hamilton area), played in the Can-Am Indoor Football League; the Spartans had their season cut short after four games, all on the road, when international border issues with the league's American teams proved to be unworkable.
The National Football League, the dominant professional football league in the United States, also has a large following in Canada due in part to significant media exposure. The NFL has occasionally played games in Toronto (as well as, more sporadically, other Canadian cities) over the course of its history but has never attempted to permanently place a team there. The Bills Toronto Series was the NFL's most direct presence in Canada; in that series, which ran from 2008 to 2013, the Buffalo Bills played one of their regular season home games in Toronto's Rogers Centre.Shrine Bowl Provincial Championships
The Shrine Bowl Provincial Championships is a high school varsity football playoff championship, in the province of British Columbia, Canada; from the years 1966 to 1975.Sprint football
Sprint football, formerly called lightweight football, is a varsity sport played by United States colleges and universities, under standard American football rules. The sport is currently governed by the Collegiate Sprint Football League.
In sprint football, players must maintain a weight of 178 lb (81 kg) or less and a minimum of 5% body fat to be eligible to play. The end result of these weight restrictions is that, unlike conventional collegiate football which places a premium on body weight and strength, sprint football emphasizes speed and agility.Stars Football League
Stars Football League (SFL) was an American football league that operated primarily in Florida from 2011 to 2013. The league was headquartered in Grosse Pointe, MichiganTufts Jumbos
The Tufts Jumbos are the varsity intercollegiate athletic programs of Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts. The Jumbos compete in the NCAA Division III National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Tufts does not offer athletic scholarships. Coed and women's sailing are the only Division I sports at the school.
Gridiron football concepts
|Levels of play|