How To Play Football
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.Note: The neutral zone is the space between the two free-kick lines during a free-kick down and between the two scrimmage lines during a scrimmage down. For a free-kick down, the neutral zone is 10 yards wide and for a scrimmage down it is as wide as the length of the football. It is established when the ball is marked ready for play. No player may legally be in the neutral zone except for the snapper on scrimmage downs, and no one except the kicker and the holder for free kick downs.
object of the game
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:
- The offense may attempt a field goal kick which is worth 1 point.
- The offense may attempt to re-advance the ball into the opponent's end zone for a two-point conversion worth 2 points.
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 (afumble) 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).
Time of play
Starting the game
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:
- Receiving the kickoff to start the game, or kicking off to start the game
- Choosing an end of the field to defend in the first quarter (with the teams switching directions at the end of the first quarter and at the end of the third quarter)
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.
How to get a player down
A player carrying the ball (the runner) is downed when any of the following occurs:
- Any part of the runner other than his hands or feet touches the ground. Ankles and wrists count as downed. This may be as a result of:
- Contact by an opponent (called down by contact) where the opponent tackles the runner by pushing him, grasping him and pulling him to the ground, sliding into his legs, or touching him in any manner prior to any part of the runner other than his hands or feet touching the ground. Unlike the use of the word tackle in other sports, if the opposing player fails to down the ball carrier, it is merely an attempted tackle. If the ball carrier falls onto another player but he doesn't make contact with the ground, he can still get up and keep playing. A player on the ground is not considered part of the ground.
- Intentionally downing the ball: intentionally kneeling, verbally declaring "I'm down" (except in college), or similar actions. For example, to protect himself from violent hits by opponents attempting to tackle him, the quarterback may choose to slide to the ground feet-first. This slide is interpreted as intentionally downing the ball, and opponents may then be penalized for hitting him.
- In amateur football, a runner is downed when any part of his body other than his hands or feet touches the ground at any time (unless he is the holder for a place kick). In professional football, the runner is not down for such accidental contact; he must be down by contact with an opponent as described above.
- The runner goes out of bounds: that is, any part of his body (including his hands or feet) touches the ground, or anything other than another player or an official, on or past a sideline or an endline. Note that the sideline itself is out of bounds, so that the runner is deemed out of bounds if he steps on or touches any part of it. Note also that a runner may carry the ball in such a manner that it is over the sideline, so long as the ball or runner does not touch anything out of bounds.
- The runner's forward progress toward the opponents' goal line is stopped by contact with an opponent, with little chance to be resumed. The exact moment at which the player's forward progress stops is subject to the judgment of the officials. In particular, for the protection of the quarterback, he is considered down as soon as an official judges that he is in the grasp of an opponent behind the line of scrimmage, and the tackling defensive player(s) will be awarded with a sack. If he is driven backward by the opponent, the ball will be spotted where his forward progress was stopped.