ESPN AMERICA’S BASIC GUIDE TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL
The rules for modern-day football date back to a formal beginning in 1876, when a set of 61 rules governing how this game would be played. Since then and with the advent of pro football, two sets of rules have slowly evolved with some major differences between the NCAA and NFL.
These ten differences have been simplified to make them more easily understandable and they may have several other rules or interpretations depending upon game circumstances.
1. PLAYING FIELD
Both college and pros play on the same size field 100 yards long (with ten-yard end-zones) and 53 1/3 yards wide. The main difference on-field is the one-yard hash marks running down the ‘middle of the gridiron in the pros are aligned to the goal posts (70 feet 9 inches from each sideline). NCAA hash-marks are set wider apart – only 60 feet from the side – giving a wider field to one side and increasing the angles for field goals when the ball is spotted on the hash.
2. GOAL POSTS
The goal posts are also different widths. The college uprights are 23′ 4″ apart, while the NFL gives its kickers a much narrower target – 18′ 6″ between the posts. This somewhat offsets the extra angle college kickers face with their wider hash-marks.
3. THE BALL
Both the NCAA and the NFL footballs have the same basic specifications but the college ball has a white stripe around the ends (added to make it easier to see the ball in flight in night games)
4. DOWNED RUNNER
A college player carrying the ball is classed as down when any part of his body (except his boots and hands/wrist) touches the ground. In the NFL, a downed player has to have been touched as he goes to ground (or on the ground) by an opposing player – otherwise he can get up and carry on running. A college player – even if he stumbles and falls over on his own – is down at that spot and cannot get up.
5. OUT OF BOUNDS
In college football, a receiver must have control of the ball and get one foot down in-bounds for it to be considered a catch. In the NFL, a receiver must have clear control of the ball and get both feet down.
6. THE GAME CLOCK
In college football, the game clock stops whenever a first down is achieved, but in the NFL the clock continues to run after a first down (unless a player goes out of bounds, there’s an incomplete pass, or a penalty or time out is called).
7. TWO MINUTE WARNING
At the end of the second and fourth quarters, the clock will be stopped with two minutes to go for an officials’’ time out. There is no such two-minute stoppage in college football and the clock keeps running until the next stoppage in play.
8. TWO POINT CONVERSION
When attempting a two-point conversion (i.e. running or passing the ball into the end-zone after a TD instead of going for a PAT [point after touchdown]), the ball is placed on the three-yard line in college games, but the pros have the ball spotted on the two-yard line.
Also, in college, the defense can return a failed two-point conversion attempt for two points. In the NFL, the ball is dead after a failed conversion attempt.
9. PASS INTERFERENCE
Pass interference (where a defender illegally interferes with a receiver before the ball is caught) in the NFL is assessed at the spot of the foul or at the one-yard line if the infraction takes place in the end zone. In college, this is assessed as a 15-yard penalty from the previous line of scrimmage.
10. BOWL GAMES
The NFL uses a straight playoff system to reach a single bowl game – the Super Bowl to decide the NFL champions. Colleges are ‘invited’ to play in 35 Division One bowl games including the Big Four (Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta) plus the National Bowl Championship Game to decide the top college team.
If you enjoyed this background information on College Football, come back to these pages as we will expand this section with more crucial College Football information (things such as how does the BCS work, which team has the best or strangest mascot, what is the Heisman Trophy, etc.).
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