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Football Rules And Regulations

what are the rules and regulations of football? Get ready to learn the basics of american football and how to play.

The Rules of Football

Today, football has grown to become one of the most beloved sports in the world, with more than 1 million high school players and 130 NCAA Division I football teams in the US alone. The Super Bowl, or the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL), is one of the most-watched events every year, with a record-breaking 114.4 million viewers in 2015. Since the sport was created, more and more rules have become introduced in order to maximize the safety of the players and to prevent teams from exploiting any loopholes.

Even if you're a new fan who's just starting to explore this sport, some of the top names in football may already sound familiar to you. For instance, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are regarded by many as one of the best quarterbacks in history, while Adrian Peterson is one of the top running backs, and J.J. Watts is currently one of the most formidable defensive ends.

Don't worry if these terms sound confusing at the moment. By the end of this tutorial, you will have mastered the basics of football.

The Field

A football game takes place on a rectangular turf measuring 120 by 53 and 1/3yards. The dimensions of the football field are delineated by the end lines and the sidelines. Goal posts are also placed on the center of each end line. The boundaries of the field of play itself, however, are outlined by the goal lines and the sidelines. The goal lines are located 10 yards away from the end line. The area between the end lines and the goal lines are known as the end zone. The area between the two goal lines make up the field of play. Hence, while the football field itself is 120 yards long, the field of play is only 100 yards, due to the presence of the end zones.

football field

As you can see in the diagram above, the field of play is further subdivided by numerous vertical lines. The longest ones, which stretch from sideline to sideline, are called yard lines, and mark the width of 5 yards. There are a total of 19 yard lines on the field of play. There are also a series of shorter lines running down each side line. These mark the width of 1 yard, and there are 98 of them in total on the field of play.

You may also have noticed that between each yard line, there also appears to be two parallel sets of short dashes. These are hash marks, and help determine where the ball will be placed at the start of every down. They also aid officials in deciding whether any boundary infractions are occurring. On an NFL field, the hash marks are located 18ft 6" away from each other, while on a college football field, they are 40 ft away from each other.

The Objectives

The objective of football is simple: to score as many points as possible in the allotted amount of playing time. The main way that this is typically achieved by moving the ball across the goal line of the opposing team and into the endzone for a touchdown. Hence, the team on the offense will be aiming to stay in possession of the ball while moving further and further into the opponent's half of the field, while the team on the defense will be working to stop their progression and to regain control of the ball, allowing them to now move on the offense.

Moving the Ball

In football, there are very specific rules that dictate how the ball can be moved across the Field of Play. The offense will mostly move the ball by throwing passes and running with the ball. This is called the passing game and running game. Football teams design running plays and passing plays to confuse the defense and gain yards. The offensive team must move the ball at least 10 yards towards the opposing team's end zone every four downs (plays). If they fail to gain 10 yards, the other team gets the ball and is now on offense. This is called a turnover.

Switching From Offense To Defense

The team on offense has the ball. However, throughout the game, teams constantly switch from offense to defense. The other team gets the ball if the following happens in a game:

  1. The offense doesn't move the ball 10 yards on the field in four downs.
  2. A defensive player catches the ball for an interception.
  3. An offensive player drops the ball for a fumble and it's taken by the defense.
  4. The offense performs a punt or kickoff.
  5. The offense scores points with a touchdown or field goal.

football offense

Game Format and Duration

The playing time of a football game is 60 minutes, divided into four 15-minute quarters. The clock officially starts with the kick off, when the defending team kicks the ball from their 35-yard line to the offensive team. However, the total length of a typical NFL football game usually lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes. This is due to the all the different occasions at which the clock must be stopped:

  1. A player is tackled.
  2. A player travels out of the bounds of the field of play.
  3. The ball travels out of bounds.
  4. A team requests a time-out.
  5. A team scores a point.
  6. A turnover, or a change in the possession of the ball, occurs (ie. the team on the defense gains control of the ball and is now on the offense.)

football clocks

Football Teams and Players

Every NFL football team can have a maximum of 53 players. However, only 11 players from each team are allowed to play at any given time. Football teams consist of three units of players called the offense, defense, and special teams. Players are organized into these groups based on their positions and roles on the field. For example, the offense has a quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, the tight end, and linemen. The defense has linemen, cornerbacks, linebackers, free safeties, and strong safeties. A coach can only substitute players between downs, when the ball is dead. There are no limits to the number of players that can be substituted, or the number of total substitutions that can be made.

football team roster


During the beginnings of football, an inflated pig's bladder is believed to have been used; today, however, the ovoid ball is made of an egg-shaped, inflated rubber bladder that is then covered with leather. Laces are also sewn into the leather to allow for a better grip on the ball.

In addition, due to the contact-heavy nature of this sport, a football player requires numerous pieces of equipment to ensure his physical safety including:

  • helmet
  • mouth guard
  • shoulder pads
  • thigh pads
  • hip pads
  • knee pads
  • jock strap
  • jersey with numerals
  • pants
  • neck roll
  • gloves

You can learn more about football equipment with our tutorial on Football Equipment List.

Fouls and Penalties

There are lots of penalties in football that will reward the opposing team and penalize the offenders. Most penalties can be divided into 5-yard, 10-yard, 15-yard penalties. However, some fouls are more unique and reward first downs or require a team to replay the last play. Here are the most common infractions in football:

Encroachment: A 5-yard penalty that happens when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the center has snapped the ball to the quarterback.

False Start: A 5-yard penalty that is called on any team when a player crosses the scrimmage line prior to the snap.

Offside: A member of the defense is not on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped or likewise for the offense. It results in a 5-yard penalty.

Holding: If any player holds or grasps another player who is not carrying the ball preventing their movement on the field, they will be penalized for a loss of five or 10 yards.

Pass Interference: If a defensive player interferences with a receiver's chance at catching a pass thrown by the quarterback in a physical way such as a push, shove, or reach. In the NFL, the ball will be placed at the spot of the foul and the offense gets a first down.

Unnecessary Roughness: This 15-yard penalty encompasses a broad range of physical contact considered unnecessary and excessive for the purposes of the game, such as chasing after and tackling a player who has run out of bounds.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: This encompasses a broad range of unsportsmanlike behavior, such as verbally abusing another player or a referee. It can result in a 15-yard penalty for either team.

Scoring and Winning

The team that scores the most points will be declared the winner of the game. There are four main ways that a team can score points and win the game called touchdowns, extra points, field goals, and safeties.

The most common method of scoring is by a touchdown, which is worth six points. In order for a touchdown to be scored, the ball must either be physically carried over the opponent's goal line or be caught by a teammate who is already standing in the end zone. Immediately after a touchdown has been scored, the team can earn additional points with the extra point or two-point conversion. A field goal is worth three points if the ball goes through the goal post by fully crossing over the crossbar between the uprights. Finally, a safety is worth 2 points and is the only way the defense can score points. It happens when the offense makes a mistake in their own end zone such as carrying the ball out of bounds or committing a foul.

football touchdown

Summary of Football Rules

  • A coin toss determines the initial setup of a game determining who starts with the ball and which direction teams go to score points.
  • The clock on in every game lasts for 60 minutes and the team with the most points at the end is the winner
  • A football game takes place on a rectangular field measuring 120 by 53 1/3 yards, and consists of end lines, sidelines, goal lines, yard lines, hash marks, and the field of play.
  • Each team can have up to 53 players; however, only 11 players from each team are allowed to play at any given time.
  • A coach can only substitute players between downs when the ball is dead and there are no limits to the number of players that can be substituted in a game.
  • The team on offense has the ball and is trying to score a touchdown or field goal in the opposing team's end zone.
  • The defense is trying to force a turnover to get the ball back so they can score. If a score is made the defense still gets to play offense.
  • The offense gets four scrimmage downs to move the ball on the field and can pass the ball or run with it to gain yards.
  • The offense can bring their special teams onto the field to kick a punt or field goal at any time if they have bad field position.
  • If the score is tied after 60 minutes of regulation, the game will proceed into additional periods of play called overtime that last 15 minutes.
  • Often, when a player commits a foul or a penalty, his entire team will suffer by having to move 5, 10, or 15 yards away from the opponent's end zone
  • When on the offense, the team will be divided into the offensive line, the backs, and the receivers. When on the defense, the team will be divided into the defensive line, the linebackers, and the safeties.
  • There main ways that the offense can score points is through a touchdown, a point after touch (PAT), or a field goal. The only way that the defense can score points is through a safety.
  • A turnover, or a change in possession of the ball, will occur if the offense is unable to move the ball 10 yards after 4 downs. The previously-defending team will now be on the offense.

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