The Field and its Features

20 Mar

owen field (6x4)A football game is played on a rectangular field that is 120 yards long and 53.3 yards wide – or 360 feet by 160 feet.  The field has two sets of boundary lines.  The longest is called a “sideline” while the shortest at either end of the field is called an “end line.”  That’s at the back of the “end zone”.  Anything that travels beyond the sideline or end line is out of bounds.

Also at either end of the field and 10 yards from the end line are “goal lines”.  The 10 yard area between the end line and the goal line is called an “end zone”.  When a player in possession of the ball crosses the goal line into his opponent’s end zone he scores a “touchdown” (worth six points).  More correctly, when any part of the ball when in possession of a player crosses the plane of the goal line a score is made.

fb field dimensions

All fields are lined every 5 yards with “yard lines” that stretch from sideline to sideline.  They are numbered in 10 yard intervals with the 50 yard line being in the middle of the field.  The numbered yard lines then descend from the 50 in increments of 10 towards each goal line, so that the last numbered yard line nearest either goal line is the 10.

Lining the field is instrumental to determining “down and distance”.   Some decades ago, it also gave rise to football fields being called “gridirons” because of how a lined field resembled a cooking grill.  (See Down and Distance)

To either side of the field and near its center, running length-wise from goal line to goal line are two rows of short lines.  These lines also divide the field into 1 yard intervals.  They are called “hashmarks” or, more accurately, “inbound lines” because all play starts with the ball “spotted” on or between the inbound lines, depending upon where the ball in the previous play was “blown” dead by the officials.

For example, whenever a player in possession of the ball goes out of bounds at a sideline, the ball is spotted for the next play at the nearest hashmark.  The effect this has on strategy and field goal kicking in college, high school, and youth football is dramatic since their hashmarks are wider apart than those in the pros.

college fb field vs NFL

When the ball is spotted on a hashmark in college and high school it divides the field into a “wideside” — the side with the longest distance to the sideline — and a “shortside” — the side with the shortest distance to the sideline.   The wideside — what is commonly called the “field side” — has the greatest area to attack and, conversely, the most area to defend.  Offenses are more likely to attack that side of the field because there is more “open grass” to exploit and few defenders to stop it.   The shortside, meanwhile, is routinely referred to by coaches as the “boundary”.  (See Field Side and Boundary: Their Effects on Strategy.)

The other difficulty the wider hashmarks create is in field goal kicking.   In college, the hashmarks are wider apart than in the pros, so the closer to the end zone that the ball is, the greater the angle of the kick.  This can make field goal kicking in college more challenging than in the pros, especially since the goal posts, as of 1991, are as narrow as those in the NFL.

These “goal posts” are found at the back of each end zone, centered on the end line.  They are connected by a cross bar that is 10 feet above the ground.  Also called “uprights”, the goal posts are used for kicking field goals (worth 3 points) and points after a touchdown or “P-A-T” (worth 1 point if kicked or 2 if ran into the end zone).   To be successful, a kick from any distance or angle must pass between the goal posts and above the cross bar.

college goal posts vs NFL

In addition, all goal posts in the NFL are painted bright gold while in college, high school and youth football the goal post are most often painted a bright yellow.  Attached to the top of each goal post is a durable ribbon measuring 4 inches wide and 42 inches long. Its purpose is to help kickers and coaches estimate the speed and direction of any wind during a kick.




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