One of the relics of the early 21st century, arena football is finished for the moment as the Arena Football League filed for bankruptcy in late 2019. Regardless, arena football presented some interesting rules and strategies that take the game to another level. These are some of the rules that made arena football so unique.
The field in arena football is much smaller than NFL and college football. The field is 85-feet wide but only 50-feet long, half the length of other football fields. This field structure produces many more points and scoring opportunities. The out-of-bounds area is distinguished by hockey-style walls around the field. Players are called out-of-bounds when they are hit into or over the boards. Because these walls make safety a huge necessity, there is ample padding around and behind the walls.
Along with the field, the goal posts are also different in the AFL. While the NFL uprights are 18.5-feet wide with the crossbar 10 feet off the ground, the arena football uprights are only nine-feet wide and 15 feet off the ground. This difference makes field goals much harder to convert, cementing the high-octane offense of the AFL.
While most endzones are the same as NFL and college football endzones, sometimes teams must adapt to the arena in which they play. Because some of these venues are mostly used for hockey and basketball teams, the end zones must be curved to fit on the field. This inconsistency is unusual in a professional sports league but finding venues for the teams is difficult enough.
One of the major departures from mainstream football present in the AFL is rebound nets on either side of the field. These nets are 32 feet high and 30 feet wide behind the endzone. These nets are not to keep the ball from going into the stands, however. The ball is still in play until it touches the ground if it hits the net and stays inbounds. These situations include missed field goals and extra points. Quarterbacks can also pass the ball off these nets for some highlight-worthy touchdown plays.
Unlike many other types of professional football, most players in the Arena Football League play on both offense and defense. Instead of the 53-man roster used in the NFL, arena football uses a much smaller 20-man roster on game days.
Also, each team has eight players on the field at a time instead of eleven. Of these eight players on either side, four offensive players and three defensive players must line up on the line of scrimmage like the offensive and defensive line in other kinds of football.
All participants play offense and defense except for a kicker, quarterback, one kick returner, and two defensive specialists. This rule is enforced by the strict substitution rules that only allow for one substitution per player a quarter. This lack of personnel change means that players must be multifaceted and have the skills to play on both sides of the ball.
Arena football has less options for teams facing fourth down than other leagues. In arena football, teams are not allowed to punt, a common fourth down decision in other leagues. Instead, teams must go for a first down, field goal, or touchdown. This rule eliminates what is usually thought of as one of the most dangerous and boring plays in other types of football.
Overtime is conducted in a way similar to the NCAA's rules. Each team gets one possession on offense from the other team's 25-yard line and must score from there.
Along with punting being illegal, more kicking rules differ from mainstream football. Instead of 35 yards down the field, kickoffs are taken from the goal line due to the short field length. If the ball is kicked out of bounds, the offensive team either starts at the 20-yard line or where the ball went out of bounds. If the returning team catches the ball and does not pass the goal line before being tackled, the kicking team gains one point, or an "uno." If the kicking team hit it through the uprights on the kickoff, the team receives two points, or a "deuce."
Other than those points, most of the other scoring is the same as regular football as a touchdown is six points, an extra point is one point, a post-touchdown running or passing conversion is two points, a safety is two points, and a field goal is three points. Teams do gain another point on field goals and extra points if a drop kick is executed in either situation.
Only one linebacker, the "Mac" can blitz each play. There are also restrictions on how this linebacker can blitz. The Mac lines up on the strong side of the line and can only pressure the quarterback through the two A-gaps on each side of the center. If the quarterback scrambles out of the pocket, though, the Mac can blitz from the outside.
The "Jack" is the linebacker that plays next to the Mac. The Jack has a completely different role than their linebacking counterpart. The Jack lines up on the opposite side of the line and cannot blitz the quarterback. Instead, the Jack plays as a coverage linebacker and patrols the lower level of the field. This player cannot go beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage unless they are playing man-to-man on a tight end or fullback.
While the wall does signal out of bounds in arena football, players can touch it and not be called out. For a play to stop, the player with the ball must be forced into or over the wall. This rule means that players in arena football can use the wall for leverage. The wall adds different strategies and tactics to the game that are not present in outdoor football.