CFL vs NFL rules, explained: Seven major differences between the two pro football leagues

The basics of the game of football are simple. One team is trying to throw and/or run the ball for a touchdown while the opposing club is doing everything to stop and force a turnover.

With the CFL’s Gray Cup set for Sunday, football fans from all over will be tuning in to see the premiere gridiron event in Canada. However, some may not be familiar with certain rules in the league.

For the most part, a lot of what goes on in CFL games is similar to what goes on in the NFL. However, NFL fans will realize pretty quickly that there are other rules and restrictions in Canada’s league that do not occur in the United States.

Here are some of the major rule differences between the CFL and the NFL.

Seven major differences between the CFL and NFL

1. The CFL field is longer and wider

The dimensions between an NFL and CFL field differ. The playing surface in Canada is longer and wider than that of the ones in the United States.

An NFL field is 100 x 53 1/3 yards, with the midfield line slated at the 50-yard line. However, a CFL field is 110 x 65 yards with the midfield line at 55 yards.

In addition, the end zones differ as well. In the CFL, the end zone is 20 yards deep, twice the length of the end zones in the NFL which are 10 yards. So in total, the CFL field is 150 yards while the NFL is 120.

2. The CFL allows 12 players on the field

The NFL allows 22 players on the field at a time, with 11 on each side. However, in the CFL, clubs can have 12 players on the field, bringing the total to 24.

This has created differences in positions as well. The tight end is essentially non-existent in the CFL, as teams elect to have two slot receivers instead. On the defensive side, the CFL uses two halfbacks and a safety, while the NFL has two different safeties.

3. The CFL has three downs per possession

Each time an NFL team has possession of the ball, they have four downs to get a first down. That’s not the case in the CFL.

In Canada’s league, teams are awarded three downs in order to gain 10 yards. This was actually the norm in football when it was first created in the 19th century. The United States changed from three downs to four in 1912, but Canada remained with just three.

4. There are only two timeouts a game in the CFL

In the CFL, each team is allowed two timeouts per game. That greatly differs from the NFL, where each side has three timeouts per half.

Once the two and three-minute warnings hit in a CFL game, the clock stops after each play, no matter the result, so teams do not have to use a timeout.

5. You can score one point in the CFL

In the NFL, the lowest amount of points you can score is a safety, which is worth two points.

While there are safeties in the CFL, there is also the ability for a team to score just one point. The single point is called a rouge, which can only be awarded on kicks.

In the CFL, the kicking team is awarded a rouge if the team either misses a field goal or punts the football, and the receiving team does not get the ball out of their own end zone. Or, a team can score a rouge if the ball goes through the end zone and out of bounds without being touched on a missed field goal or punt.

The receiving team will get the ball at the 40-yard line as a result of the play.

6. The CFL’s goalposts have a different location

Because the fields are different sizes, the location of the goalposts isn’t at the back of the end zone like it is in the NFL.

Instead, the CFL puts the posts at the front of the end zone. This allows the distance for the kickers to be generally the same as in the NFL.

7. No fair catch on punt returns in the CFL

In the NFL, if a punt returner wants to let the ball fall and bounce, or if he doesn’t want to catch and try and return for more yards, they can wave their hand and signal a fair catch. The ball is spotted wherever it is caught.

That doesn’t happen in the CFL. A player can either catch the ball in the air, catch it off a bounce or pick it up off the ground after letting it fall.

To keep the punt returners safe from opponents trying to tackle him as he’s catching the ball, the punting team must give the returner a cushion of about five yards. If this does not happen, then the kicking team is handed a 10-yard penalty.

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