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Differences among Middle School, High School, College, and Professional Football

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  • Differences among Middle School, High School, College, and Professional Football

    I am a woman new to the game of football. I decided to learn last summer by watching the Broncos play each week. I ask lots of questions and greatly appreciate these forums.

    Last night, I attended a middle school football game. The man sitting next to me said the game officials for middle school and high school football are more lenient than they would be for a college or professional game.

    What are other differences, if any, among middle school, high school, college, and professional football, as far as rules, how the game is played, etc.? I know, for example, the playoffs are different for college than for professional football. Thank you so much for all your help.

    The Minx

  • #2
    There are a lot of differences, but let's start with the field. The exterior dimensions are the same at all levels: 100 yards long with 10 yard endzones; 53 yards and one foot wide.

    The fields have solid lines every five yards, hashmarks every yard and numbers. This why football fields are called gridirons; the marks are guidelines.

    In pro and college football, the goalposts are 18'6" wide; HS goalposts are 23'4" wide. They are positioned so that the crossbar, which is 10' high, is above the line at the back of the end zone.

    Hashmarks are 2' wide. They are important because the ball is spotted on or between, but never outside them before a play. If a play carries the ball outside the hashmarks, it is spotted on the nearest hashmark prior to the next play.

    In the NFL, hashmarks are lined up on the goalposts. So, in the NFL the ball is put into play from the midlle of the football field. Since the goalposts are 18'6" wide, it's 70'9" from the hashmark to the near sideline. The farthest the ball can be spotted from the farther sideline is 89'3".

    In college football, hashmarks are 40' wide and are 60' from the near sideline, the field being 160' wide. The farthest the ball can be spotted from the farther sideline is 100'. From the hashmark there is a wide and short side from where the ball is put into play.

    High School football fields, which are used by middle school and youth football teams, use the hashmarks to divide the field into equal lengthwise thirds each of which is 53'4" wide, so there is 53'4" between the hashmarks and from the hashmark to the near sideline. The farthest the ball can be spotted from the farther sideline is 106'8", a shorter short side and a wider wide side than college football.

    Did the field on which the middle school game you attended have the numbers painted or chalked on the field? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. If the numbers are painted or chalked on the field, they are 6' high and 4' wide placed every ten yards facing the sideline. In the NFL, the bottom of the number is twelve yards from the sideline; in college and HS, the top of the number is nine yards from the sideline. The numbers are used by teams as reference points for where to line up, run, lateral and other manuevers.

    Outside each sideline are areas beyond which coaches and players may not stand when they are not on the field. This area is between the 25 yard lines. Only coaches are to be in the area 6' outside the sideline. This rule is not normally strictly enforced.
    "Stultum est timere quod vitare non potes." ~ Publilius Syrus


    • #3
      First of all... Sam is the Man! A one-stop shop for anything and everything football. In your quest to learn more about the game there are few here that will give you a more informative answer than samparnell.

      There are quite a few differences, but a couple come to mind right now.

      Two minute warning:
      In the NFL the clock stops with 2 minutes left in each half. If the football is in play when the clock reaches the 2:00 mark then the two minute warning is called immediately after that play concludes. There is no two minute warning in college, high school and middle school football.

      In the NFL, a receiver must maintain possession of the ball with BOTH FEET in bounds for it to be ruled a completion. (There are other, rather contentious, requirements for a completion in the NFL, but for the purpose if this post I won't address them.) The two feet in bounds requirement must also be met by anyone recovering a fumble or making an interception. In college, HS & middle school ball the requirement is only ONE FOOT in bounds.
      Winter is Coming!


      • #4

        Here's a good quiz

        Hooray, beer!


        • #5
          There's no throwing the ball away in HS football. Little known fact.

          Hooray, beer!


          • #6
            1. In the NFL, if the defense has 12 men on the field at the snap, it's a five-yard penalty for too many men on the field. What is the penalty and yardage in High School?

            Correct Answer: Illegal Participation - 15 yards - You were correct. ( 25% got it correct )
            Once the ball is snapped, the penalty becomes illegal participation and is a 15-yard penalty. This is why many high school officials try to call the penalty before the ball is snapped. Then it is just illegal substitution, and the penalty is only 5 yards.

            2. In a high school game, on second and 10 from Team A's own 30, Team A's quarterback rolls out to pass. Before being chased out of bounds at his 25, he throws the ball into the stands. What is the down, distance and spot of the ball?

            Correct Answer: 3rd and 20 at Team A's own 20 - You were correct ( 21% got it correct )
            There is no such thing as 'throwing the ball away when out of the pocket' in High School. This play is intentional grounding which is a five-yard penalty from the spot of the foul and loss of down.

            3. In a high school game on first and 10 from their own 30, the quarterback drops back five yards and throws a pass to his wide receiver who is standing on his 28-yard line. The wide receiver then throws a pass to the other wide receiver who catches the ball at his 45 and is tackled there. What penalty should be called and what is the distance of the penalty.

            Correct Answer: No penalty, the play is legal - You were correct. ( 35% got it correct )
            In high school, as long as the forward pass starts from behind the line of scrimmage, and the ball has not crossed the line of scrimmage, you may throw as many forward passes as you like.

            4. Assuming there are no penalties, which yard line does a kickoff start from in high school?

            Correct Answer: The kicking team's 40-yard line - You were correct. ( 58% got it correct )
            Once upon a time, kickoffs at all levels were from the 40. The NFL moved back to the 35 and then the 30. College moved back to the 35, and starting in 2007, colleg kicks from the 30 like the NFL.

            5. What makes a receiver eligible to catch a pass in high school?

            Correct Answer: Lines up on the end of the line at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield and is numbered 1-49 or 80-89 - You were correct. ( 61% got it correct )
            If a receiver is on the line of scrimmage, he must be on the end. If he is covered by another receiver (another player lines up outside of him on the line), he is inelgible to catch a pass even if he has the a proper numbered jersey.

            6. What is the penalty for defensive pass interference in a high school game?

            Correct Answer: 15 yards from the previous spot and an automatic first down - You were correct. ( 67% got it correct )
            In the NFL, a pass interference call is spotted at the spot of the foul and is an automatic first down. In high school, it is 15 yards and an automatic first down.
            7. There are 5-yard and 15-yard face mask penalties in high school, similar to the NFL.

            Correct Answer: t - You were correct. ( 36% got it correct )
            The High School rule book changed in 2000 to allow for 5-yard penalties for inadvertant face mask penalties.
            8. If a kickoff goes into the end zone in a high school game, can the kick returner reurn the kick?

            Correct Answer: n - You were correct. ( 55% got it correct )
            In high school, a kick-off or a punt that goes into the end zone is an automatic touchback.

            9. In high school, what number must a running back have?

            Correct Answer: There is no number requirement for a running back - You were correct. ( 33% got it correct )
            There is no number requirement to be a runner, however, if he goes out for a pass, he must be numbered 1-49 or 80-89.

            10. Is there a two-point conversion at the high school level?

            Correct Answer: y - You were correct. ( 93% got it correct )
            Following a touchdown, a team may try for a one or two point conversion; just like college and the NFL.
            Last edited by CoryWinget81; 08-29-2012, 10:51 AM.

            Hooray, beer!


            • #7
              Cool quiz, Cory!

              I remember when I was in high school there were no 5-yard "inadvertent" face mask penalties - they were always 15 yarders. I see that that changed in 2000.

              Interestingly, in 2008 the NFL removed the 5 yard inadvertent facemask penalty. They're all 15 yards now. Kind of makes me wonder if the junior programs will follow the NFL's lead on this (again).
              Winter is Coming!


              • #8
                Dear The Minx,
                I don't know how basic you want to go. The ball is about the same size from HS through college to pro. HS and college footballs have stripes, NFL doesn't. The middle school game you saw probably used a slightly smaller ball. The little-bitty bobblehead football players use the smallest ball which becomes larger as they become older.

                The ball is put into play at the beginning of each half and after a score via the kickoff. The kickoff (KO) is a free, uncontested kick from a tee in which the opposing team can be no closer than ten yards from the ball. Unlike a Punt, the KO is live and may be recovered by either team.

                When a team gets possession of the ball, they may retain possession as long as they advance the ball at least ten yards with four opportunities each time. The opportunities are called downs. First down and ten is the first opportunity. If a team gains four yards on first down and ten, the next opportunity is second down and six. When the ball has been advanced ten or more yards, a new set of downs is awarded. This is called down and distance (D&D).

                When a team has failed to advance the ball ten yards after three downs, they will do one of three things: go for it on fourth down; Punt; or, attempt a field goal. If the team with the ball tries to advance the ball the necessary ten yards on fourth down but fails to do so, possession goes to the other team. This is called the ball going over on downs.

                A Punt is a contested kick not from a tee and the other team is on the line of scrimmage trying to block the kick. By the way, the line of scrimmage (LOS)) is an imaginary, invisible line running from sideline to sideline even with the front of the ball. Each team must begin each play on their side of that line; if not, it is a five yard penalty. The Punt changes possession so the ball is not live; it belongs to the receiving team unless the returner fumbles the ball after establishing possession.

                A field goal attempt (FGA) is where the snapper on LOS snaps/passes the ball between his legs to a holder who places the ball in an upright position for the kicker to attempt to kick it between the goalposts. The other members of the team stop opponents from blocking the FGA. NFL teams will FGA from long distances (40-55 yards). The distance of a FGA is measured from the spot of the hold (usually seven yards behind LOS) to the crossbar over the back line of the endzone (EZ). College kickers have nearly the range of pros. From HS on down FGAs are a big deal because it's a fairly complex procedure that isn't practiced very much, so the distances are shorter. Most HS placekickers are borrowed from the soccer team. When a FGA is good, it's worth 3 points.

                Field Position (FP) is where a team has possession of the ball. Football fields have a strange numbering system which counts from each Goal Line (GL) up to 50 yards which is in the center of the field. When a team has the ball on their side of the 50 yard line, they are in minus territory; their own twenty yard line is the -20 and the opponents' twenty yard line is the +20.

                If team fails to get a first down after three tries, they will only go for it on fourth down if the distance is very short; a yard or less. If the distance is too far for a fourth down attempt and they are out of range for a FGA, they will Punt. You want to make your opponent go the farthest possible distance for a score. In other words, you want to give him the worst possible FP.

                Teams with the ball are on offense (O). Teams without possession of the ball are on defense (D). O must have seven players on LOS. This is the offensive line (OL). The players on the ends of the OL are called Ends. The Ends are eligible receivers; the OL between them are not. O must have four players behind LOS. They are called Backs and they are all eligible. One of the Backs may move prior to the snap of the ball, but he may not move toward LOS. All other players on O must not move prior to the ball being put into play/the snap.

                D lines up on O, but they may move around up to the snap.

                When a team advances the ball over the opponents' GL, they have scored a touchdown (TD) which is worth six points. Afterward, they may attempt an extra point (XPA). It can be for one or two points. The ball is spotted on the +3 outside the GL. A team scores 1 point if they kick the ball through the goalposts like a FGA. They score two extra points if they advance the ball either by running or passing it across the GL on one attempt.
                Last edited by samparnell; 08-29-2012, 04:54 PM.
                "Stultum est timere quod vitare non potes." ~ Publilius Syrus