Top 10 Rules Of Football

Top 10 Rules Of Football

Football is one of the most popular sports in America, and there are many rules you need to know to play. Here, we will cover the most important football rules to understand the sport, break them down, and look at how they differ between NFL and college football. Read on to learn about the ten most important rules of football.

What Are the Most Important Rules of Football?

  1. Catch Rule
  2. Fumble Rule
  3. Overtime Rules
  4. Downs Rules
  5. Replay Rules
  6. Point-After Conversion Rules
  7. Safety Rules
  8. Targeting Rule
  9. Touchback Rules
  10. Onside Kicking Rules

1. Catch Rule

football catch rule

What is a catch? This exact question has been debated for years by fans, coaches, players, and officials. In the NFL, a catch is when a player receives possession of a passed ball while having two feet or any body part other than the hands in bounds. The ball cannot be dislodged or moved as a result of contact with the ground.

A big point of emphasis from NFL officials is that a player must “maintain possession through the entire process of the catch.” This means that a player must hang onto the ball when getting hit by another player or hitting the ground.

If the ball is seen bobbling in a player’s hands or slipping in their grip during a catch, it may be ruled an incomplete pass on account of the player not maintaining control of the ball. After catching the ball, the player must also make a “football move,” such as a third step, pivot, or reach. A catch can also be deemed legal if the player has possession of the ball long enough to make a football move.

The college football catch rule is the same as the NFL rule in every regard, apart from the requirement to have both feet in bounds. In college, receivers only need to have one foot in bounds while catching the ball.

2. Fumble Rule

football fumble rule

A fumble occurs when a player is deemed to have possession of the ball and then proceeds to lose possession of the ball before being tackled and ruled “down.” A player is considered down in the NFL when any body part (except for the hands and feet) hits the ground as a result of a tackle or when they fall and are touched by a defensive player while on the ground. In the NCAA, a player is down if any body part apart from the hands and feet hits the ground, regardless of being touched or not.

Fumbles can occur for several different reasons, but they usually occur when a defensive player either strips the ball out of the offensive player's hands or hits the offensive player with a hard hit, causing the player to lose the football. When a player fumbles the ball, either team is able to recover the ball and regain possession. A fumble is an example of a turnover, which occurs when the offensive team loses possession to the defense. If the offense manages to get the ball back after a fumble, it is known as a “recovery.”

3. Overtime Rules

football Overtime

Overtime occurs when two teams are tied at the end of regulation. The NCAA and NFL have very different procedures for overtime.

When an NFL game ends regulation in a tie during the regular season, the two teams play a 10-minute overtime period. In order to decide who gets the ball first, there is a coin flip similar to the beginning of the game. If the team who receives the ball scores a touchdown on their first drive, the game is over. If they do not score, the other team has the opportunity to win the game with any score. 

If the team who received the ball first scores a field goal, the other team has the opportunity to have possession and tie the game with a field goal of their own, win the game with a touchdown, or lose if they fail to score any points. If each team possesses the ball and the score remains tied, the next team to score wins the game. If the score remains tied at the end of the overtime period, the game ends in a tie. In the playoffs, however, they continue to another overtime period, with the next score winning the game. In the event that the second team to have possession is down by a field goal in a playoff overtime game and the time runs out while they are still on their initial drive, they will continue to another overtime giving that team the opportunity to finish their drive.

When a college football game ends regulation in a tie, the two teams are each given possession at the opponent’s 25-yard line. A coin toss determines who possesses the ball first and which side the teams will play on. If the score remains tied after the first overtime, they proceed to a second overtime with the same format.

In the second overtime, teams who score a touchdown must go for a two-point conversion. If the game goes into a third overtime period, teams will start from the opponents’ two-yard line and have to run two-point conversion plays until one team scores and the other does not.

4. Downs Rules

Football Downs Rules

In football, offenses aim to score a touchdown every drive. Defenses aim to stop the offense from doing so. Down markers are imperative parts of football, as they give the defense a chance to stop the offense without giving up points. If there were no downs system and the offense had every chance to score, it would be very challenging for the defense to get the ball back to their offense without giving up points.

Therefore, every 10 yards gained on an NFL and college football field is considered a first down. From wherever the offense starts their drive, 10 yards from that spot is the first down marker. If a team fails to get the ball past the first down marker four times in a row, the other team takes over possession of the ball. If a measurement is very close, the referees come out with chains to measure if the ball crossed the first down line or not.

5. Replay Rules

Football Replay Rules

Replay has become more and more prevalent as the years have gone by in football. The importance of replay is to ensure accuracy from the referees, preventing mistakes. Most penalties are not reviewable by officials if they were not originally called on the field. The most common elements of the game that are reviewed are the spot of the ball, whether a reception was a catch or an incomplete pass, and whether a potential fumble was actually a turnover. 

Coaches are given two challenges each game, which they can use at any time, except when there are less than two minutes remaining in the second or fourth quartersIn the final two minutes of each half, every reviewable play is examined by officials in a booth.

Regardless of whether a coach is deemed correct on their first challenge, they have another challenge to use if they want. However, if a coach challenges twice and is incorrect both times, they have no challenges for the remainder of the game. If a coach gets both of their challenges right, they are awarded another challenge. 

A coach signals a challenge by throwing a red flag onto the field and discussing with the referees what they want them to review. If the play is deemed challengeable, the referee will proceed to look at replays and will determine whether the call stands or should be overturned.

The terminology used when announcing the result of a replay is important because all replays must show conclusive evidence in order for the call on the field to be overturned. When a referee says the call on the field “stands,” that means that they saw video evidence and deemed that the call on the field was correct or there is not enough evidence to accurately change the call. If a referee says the call on the field is overturned, the referees admit to a mistake, and the original call is changed to the correct call.

6. Point-After Conversion Rules

football point after conversion

After a team scores a touchdown, they have the option to attempt a two-point conversion or kick an extra point, known as a PAT (point-after-touchdown). The more conventional option is the PAT. The point-after is a field goal from the 15-yard line (making it a 32-yard field goal, as the end zone is 10 yards and the placeholder is seven yards from the line of scrimmage).

Placeholder is the terminology for the player who receives the snap and sets the ball up for the kicker to attempt the field goal. If kicked successfully through the uprights of the field goal posts, the team is awarded one point. If teams decide to go for the two-point conversion, they run an offensive play from the two-yard line and attempt to get the ball into the end zone by either running or catching the ball in the boundaries of the end zone. If completed successfully, the team is awarded two points.

In the event that an extra point is blocked, or a two-point conversion results in an interception or a fumble, the other team can recover the ball and run with it across the field into the other end zone. If this occurs, the team who returned the ball is awarded two points, as this is not considered a regular touchdown.

The same rules apply for point-after attempts and two-point conversions in college football, apart from the distance of the extra-point field goal. In college, kickers attempt the point-after from the three-yard line (making it a 20-yard field goal).

7. Safety Rules

Football Safety Rules

A safety occurs when an offensive team is tackled in their own end zone or commits a holding penalty in their end zone. The result of a safety is the defensive team being awarded two points and receiving the ball immediately afterward for a free-kick punt. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for there to be a one-point safety in football, although it is extremely rare (it has never happened in the NFL and only happened a few times in college football).

A one-point safety occurs when a team is either attempting a two-point conversion or kicking an extra point. For this to happen, the offensive team blocks the kick, recovers a fumble, or intercepts a pass, then proceeds to run back into their own end zone. Then, they are tackled by the team attempting the PAT or two-point conversion within their own endzone. The player must have recovered the ball outside of their own end zone before running back into their end zone for it to be a one-point safety.

8. Targeting Rule

football targeting rule

Football can be a very dangerous sport when players tackle each other incorrectly. Targeting is defined as a forcible tackle that is dangerous in nature and goes beyond playing the ball or making a legal block. The targeting rule bans any tackle in which there is “forcible contact” to the head or neck area of a defenseless player, as well as leading with the crown of the helmet when tackling.

The targeting rule was instituted to prevent players from suffering critical head and neck injuries as a result of another player tracking them incorrectly. The NFL and NCAA have similar definitions of targeting, but the NCAA bans two specific kinds of hits while the NFL only bans one. The NFL refers to this infraction as a Use of Helmet foul. 

These penalties are personal fouls that result in a loss or gain of 15 yards, depending on which team committed the offense. Additionally, players are subject to ejection at both levels for targeting. NFL players can also face fines determined by the NFL front office.

The difficulty in making these calls is determining what a “defenseless” player means. In the eyes of the NCAA, a defenseless player is someone who has no chance to react to a hit. In the NFL, there is no definition of a “defenseless player” but instead relies on the Use of Helmet foul.

9. Touchback Rule

football touchback rule

A touchback occurs on either a kickoff or a punt. A touchback on a punt occurs when the ball is punted into or out of the back of the endzone. The second the ball touches any part of the endzone, it is deemed a touchback (even if it is fumbled by the receiving team). A touchback occurs on a kickoff when the ball is kicked out of the back of the endzone or when a player catches the ball in the endzone and takes a knee or calls for a fair catch. A touchback results in the receiving team starting their offensive possession on their own 25-yard line.

The rules are identical for both leagues apart from the fair catch part. If a college football player waives for a fair catch inside their own 25-yard line, the play is deemed dead, and the ball is placed at the receiving team’s 25-yard line to start their offensive possession. If an NFL player were to call for a fair catch on a kickoff inside of their 25-yard line, wherever they catch the ball would be the starting point for their next drive. The NCAA instilled this rule to address the issue of players getting injured at an extremely high rate on kickoffs.

10. Onside Kicking Rule

football Onside Kick

An onside kick occurs when a team decides to try and recover their own kick on a kickoff. In contrast, normal kickoffs willingly give the ball to the opposing team. Onside kicks are much riskier than taking a normal kickoff, as an unsuccessful attempt puts the opponent near the 50-yard line instead of in their own half of the field. For this reason, onside kicks are typically only used at the end of the game when teams are desperate to gain possession. In a typical NFL season, only about 4% of onside kicks are successful.

For a legal onside kick, the ball must travel 10 yards or hit an opposing player before being recovered by the kicking team. The kicking team must wait until the ball is kicked to run past the 40-yard line, where the ball is being kicked from. If the ball is kicked out of bounds, the kicking team receives a penalty and the receiving team takes possession of the football.

Anyone, including the kicker, is eligible to recover the kick. When executing an onside kick, the kicking team must have an equal number of players (5) on either side of the kicker. If a player runs past the ball before the ball is kicked, an offsides penalty is called, and the ball is moved back five yards for another kick.


What are the basic rules of football?

Football is a team sport played between two teams with 11 players on the field at a time. The teams alternate possession of the ball to try to score more points than their opponent. Points can be scored through touchdowns, field goals, extra point conversions, or safeties. When a team gets the ball, they have four chances (known as downs) to move ten yards toward the opposing team’s end zone. If they are successful, they are given four more downs. If a team fails to advance ten yards, the ball is turned over to the other team.

What safety rules are there in football?

Besides fair gameplay, the biggest concern for football rules is the safety of players. All activity on a football field should work towards getting the ball into the opposing team’s end zone or committing a legal block against the opposing team. An illegal block is when a player holds another’s jersey or tackles an inappropriate part of another player’s body, such as their head, neck, lower half, or backside. Players are also prohibited from leading tackles with their head or neck, as this poses a major safety risk.

Who enforces the rules in football?

In every football game, there are officials who are responsible for making calls on penalties and other rule violations. Officials watch the action on the field and throw a penalty flag or blow their whistle to stop play after a violation of the rules has happened. Afterward, they enforce the proper punishment. At the college and professional levels, there are seven on-field officials for each game. The referee is considered the lead official and has the final say on all penalty calls or rule infractions.