Canadian football is a form of football in which two teams of twelve players each compete for territorial control of a field of play 110 yards (100.58 metres) long and 65 yards (59.43 metres) wide, with end zones 20 yards (18.29 metres) deep. At each goal line is a set of forty-foot (12.2 metre) high goalposts to uprights joined by a crossbar 18.5 feet (5.64 metres) long which is ten feet (3.05 metres) above the goal line. The goalposts may be either H-shaped (both posts fixed in the ground) or of the tuning-fork design (supported by a single curved post behind the goal line, so that each post starts ten feet (3.05 metres) above the ground). The sides of the field are marked by white sidelines, the goal line is marked in white, and white lines are drawn laterally across the field every five yards (4.57 metres) from the goal line.
Teams advance across the field through the execution of short, distinct plays, which involve the possession of a prolate spheroid ball (similar to a size 3 rugby ball). Players advance the ball by carrying it in the arms or passing it to another player (only one forward pass permitted per football play). Three attempts, or downs, are allowed to move forward ten yards, or the team with the ball must relinquish the ball to the other team.
Canadian football, like American football and rugby, distinguishes three ways of kicking the ball:
- the place kick (kicking a ball held on the ground by a teammate, or, on resuming play following a score, placed on a tee)
- the drop kick (kicking a ball after bouncing it on the ground; although rarely used today, it has the same status in scoring as a place kick)
- the punt (kicking the ball after it has been released from the kicker's hand and before it hits the ground)
On punts and field goal attempts (but not kickoffs), members of the kicking team other than the kicker may not approach within five yards of the ball until it is or has been in the possession of the receiving team.
Play begins with one team kicking off by place kicking the ball from its 35-yard line (32 metres) the line 35 yards (in front of its goal line). The receiving player then attempts to advance the ball, play stopping when his knee or elbow is forced to the ground (a tackle), when a touchdown (see below) is scored, or when any other player who has obtained possession of the ball is tackled. The next play then starts from scrimmage. The imaginary field-wide line on which the ball is placed following a tackle is called the line of scrimmage. For a scrimmage to be valid the team in possession of the football must have seven players, exclusive of the quarterback, within one yard of the line of scrimmage. The defending team, however, must stay a yard or more away from the ball. These seven players assume a stance with both feet and the knuckles of one hand on the ground, except for the player in the middle of the line, the centre, whose hands instead hold the football. Play begins when the centre passes (snaps) the ball backward through his legs to the quarterback or to a punter. If the quarterback receives the ball he may then advance with the ball, pass it laterally or backwards to a teammate, punt the ball, place the ball on the ground for a place kick, or, remaining on his team's side of the line of scrimmage, pass it to a player who is on the other side of the line (a forward pass). Play ends as on the kick-off. If the punter receives the ball he usually punts it, but may use any of the options which the quarterback has. After a punt, play may also end when a single (see below) is conceded by a player on the receiving team.
Each play constitutes a down, and the team must advance ten yards towards the opponents' goal line within three downs or forfeit the ball to their opponents. Once ten yards are gained a new series of three downs is begun. When teams have not gained ten yards in two downs they usually punt the ball on third down or try to kick a field goal (see below), depending on their position on the field.
Methods of scoring include:
- A touchdown is scored when the ball is in possession of a player in the opponent's goal area, or when the ball in the possession of a player crosses or touches the plane of the opponent's goal-line, worth 6 points
- After scoring a touchdown a team may attempt to add to its score by means of a scrimmage play from any point between the hash marks on or outside the opponent's five yard line, by kicking a field goal, worth 1 point, or by scoring a touchdown by means of a ball carrying or passing play, worth 2 points. This is known as a convert or conversion
- A field goal is scored by a drop kick or place kick (except on a kick-off) when the ball, after being kicked and without again touching the ground goes over the cross bar and between the goal posts (or goal posts produced) of the opponent's goal, worth 3 points
- A safety touch, more commonly known as a safety, is scored when the ball becomes dead in the possession of a team in its own goal area, or touches or crosses the dead-line or a side-line-in-goal as a result of the ball having been carried, kicked, fumbled or otherwise directed from the field of play into the goal area by the team scored against, or as a direct result of a kick from scrimmage having been blocked in the field of play or goal area, worth 2 points
- If the ball is kicked into the goal area by an opponent, a single point or rouge is scored when the ball becomes dead in possession of a team in its own goal area or when the ball touches or crosses the deadline, or a side-line-in-goal, and touches the ground, a player, or some object beyond these lines; it is worth 1 point. Although rouge remains an official term, it is rarely used, and this score is almost always called a single. The term "rouge" ("red") is a holdover from the time many years ago in which a point was deducted from the score of the team failing to advance the ball from the end zone rather than being added to the score of the other team; if a team had no points this could result in their going "in the red" with a negative score.
Resumption of play following a score is conducted under procedures which vary with the type of score.
Canadian football is played at several levels in Canada. The professional league in which the sport is played is the nine-team Canadian Football League (CFL). The professional champion is awarded the Grey Cup, the university champion the Vanier Cup.
The Canadian Football League was known under various names throughout its history including the Canadian Rugby Football Union , and the Canadian Rugby Union . The Canadian Rugby Football Union, original forerunner to the current Canadian Football League was established in 1884.
Comparison with American football
The rules of the sport are very similar to American football, and the NFL has established a formal relationship with the CFL. Due to the similarities to the game, many outside of Canada today consider Canadian football a minor variation of the American game and the CFL to be a minor league and not a major professional league. However, the game is relatively popular in Canada, and the CFL is considered a major league in the country, arguably being the second most popular professional sports league, the NHL being first. Indeed, many Canadian football players are also American football players.
However, there are several important differences between the Canadian and American games:
- the field is larger, similar in size to American fields prior to 1912
- twelve men a side rather than eleven
- ten yards must be made in three downs rather than four
- the defensive line must stay a yard away from the ball at the scrimmage
- because of the above rule, a play can never start inside the defending team's one-yard line; if an offensive play results in the ball being advanced between the one-yard line and goal line, the ball is moved back to the 1
- there is no fair catch; instead no players from the kicking team except the kicker and any player who was behind him when he kicked the ball may approach within five yards of the ball until it is or has been in the opponents' possession
- all offensive backfield players, except the quarterback, may be in motion at the snap; players in motion may move in any direction as long as they are behind the line of scrimmage at the snap (in American football, only one backfield player is allowed to be in motion, and he cannot move toward the line of scrimmage until after the snap)
- Canadian football allows each team only one thirty-second time-out in each half (however, during the last three minutes of each half the clock is stopped after every play and a final play is allowed if time expires between plays, therefore additional time-outs would be of little value)
- the offensive team must run a play every 20 seconds, while in American football a 45-second interval between plays is allowed.
- a kicker, or a player behind the kicker when he kicks the ball, may recover his own kick and advance with the ball.
- the defensive line can only hold up a receiver within 1 yard of the scrimmage lines, allowing for more open plays
- there is no single-point score in American football, the same events that result in a single in Canadian football result only in the award of a touchback
- receivers only need to have one foot in bounds for a catch to count as a reception, as in American high school and college football
- when the ball is fumbled, the last team to touch the ball before it goes out of bounds gets possession (rather than the last team to possess the ball as in American Football)
- the goal posts are at the front of the end zone (goal line) rather than the back (end line)
- missed field goals which do not hit the uprights are live; if the ball is not returned out of the end zone, the kicking team receives a single point, but the returner has the possibility of returning the missed kick for a touchdown; failing this, his team will receive possession at the point to which he returns the ball
- extra points are from the 5-yard line (rather than the 2), and the offence can score a single for kicking a convert or 2 points for running or passing the ball into the end zone as in American Football. During a conversion the ball is live on a turnover, allowing the defensive team to score 2 points on an interception return, for example. (In American football, the ball is dead on a turnover during a conversion in the NFL, but is live in college football.)
- roster sizes are 40 players (rather than 53 as in the NFL), comprised of 19 non-imports (essentially, Canadians), 18 imports, and 3 quarterbacks.
- following a successful field goal, there is no kickoff and the team scored upon receives possession at its own 35 yard line.
With the larger field, greater number of players, deeper end zones, more frequent plays, clock stoppages after every play in the last three minutes of the game, returns of every punt and kick, liberalized motion rules, a yard between offensive and defensive lines at the scrimmage, and three downs instead of four, the Canadian game often features more wide-open play than is seen in the American game.
Specifically, these differences diminish the value of the conservative "three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" tactic that American teams sometimes employ and encourage forward passing and scoring.
In some regions along the Canada-USA border, especially western areas, some high schools from opposite sides of the border will regularly play games against one another (typically one or two per team per season). By agreement between the governing bodies involved, the field of the home team is considered a legal field, although it is a different size from one school's normal field. Also, by the same agreement, both sides play under Canadian rules when the Canadian team has the ball and under American rules when the US team has the ball.
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