This website is not optimized for Internet Explorer 7 or lower.
Download Internet Explorer 9, Firefox, or Chrome.

CFL Football 101: Lesson 2 – Basic Rules

In today’s Lesson, we will look at the basic rules and regulations and the structure football in the CFL and NFL.

  1. What sport is also called Football – outside of North America? Soccer is called football everywhere else in the world, except North America, where it is referred to as soccer.
  2. What are the two professional football leagues in North America? Do they overlap? The Canadian Football League and the National Football League are the two leagues. They do not overlap except that many of the rules are the same, but the teams in each league do not play one another.
  3. Name 2 ways in which a team can score. A touchdown play or a field goal play.
  4. What do teams win in the Championship Game of the CFL? They win the Grey Cup. The championship is known as the Grey Cup and it takes place in November.
  5. How many “downs” are played in the CFL vs the NFL? In the CFL, teams only have 3 downs (or chances) to gain 10 yards, whereas in the NFL, the teams have 4 downs.



  1. Line of Scrimmage – The imaginary lines on the field that the offense and defense cannot cross until the ball is snapped.  There are two lines of scrimmage in a football game, one for the offense and one for defense.  This is why in football you see the teams crouch down and line up facing each other before the play starts. These lines move depending on how far the offense is able to move the ball forward.
  2. Field Goal – Term used to describe a scoring play where the kicker has the opportunity to score three points by kicking the football through the uprights from any point on the field. Typically, this will happen on a team’s last down if they don’t think they can get into the end zone for a touchdown.  Each team has an appointed kicker (part of special teams) that will come out and attempt the field goal. In the NFL, no points are awarded if the kicker misses. (In the CFL, however, the team can be awarded one point for a missed field goal as long as the ball is not run back out of the end zone by the other team).
  3. Kickoffs – A play that occurs at the beginning of the game, after halftime, or after a scoring play by the offense to resume play.
  4. Pocket – The area in front of the quarterback after he takes the “snap” of the football from the centre.
  5. Tackle – When a player is “taken down” on the field. There are various strategies players employ to tackle (i.e. grab feet)
  6. Penalty – A term for any time a team violates a rule of the game. Penalties are signaled by one of the officials throwing a flag in the direction of the penalty that occurred. The team being punished will lose anywhere between five and fifteen yards.
  7. Combine – An event where all of the top prospects go through drills to showcase their skills to all the NFL teams to try and increase their draft ranking – this increases their chances of multiple offers from teams.  The tests include skill, weight, strength, conditioning, speed and so much more!
  8. The Draft: An annual event where coaches and teams pick players to join their team.  Eligible players/prospects get ranked based on skill from the combine and the order of when teams get to pick is based on how they did in the previous season aka if a team comes in last place they get “first pick” at the draft and get the best available player to add to their roster.


Rules & Game Play

The Field

  • The CFL field is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide. The two end zones are each 20 yards deep.
  • The NFL plays on a field that is 100 yards long and 53.3 yards wide. It is divided into five-yard sections with numbers painted at every 10 yards. The field is divided into two halves of 50 yards. At each end of the field is a 10 yard “end zone.” where scoring takes place.

Players and Game Play

  • A game consists of four quarters. Each quarter is 15 minutes in length and the time is never stopped during game play unless it is for a penalty, timeout, injury, a challenge or a TV commercial.
  • Each team consists of an offense, a defense and a special teams squad. The specials teams unit is in charge of kick-offs, punts and field goals.
  • In the CFL, there are 12 players on the field during play – on offense, the additional player is a receiver. On defense, the extra man is a defensive back.
  • In the NFL, there are 11 players on the field during play.

Beginning a Game

For both the CFL and the NFL, each game starts with a coin toss to determine which team will be kicking and which team will receive the ball.   The captains of both teams meet the referee at centre field and the visiting team will call the coin toss and the team that wins declares when they want to choose the field setup (in addition to who kicks off first, they also decide which end of the field they want to defend). This is repeated at half-time and the coin-toss loser will make the choices for his team, for the second half of the game.

The game begins with the ball placed on a tee at the 35-yard line of the defending team, and the kicker kicks it as far as possible towards the opposing team. If a kickoff goes out of bounds prior to the end zone, it is awarded to the offense at its 35-yard line. It is from this point that the offense starts their “drive” to their opponent’s end zone based on how far the ball is kicked and how far the returning team runs the ball after catching the kickoff.


  • Touchdown (six points): A touchdown is scored when a player runs in or a catches a ball inside the opposing teams end zone. For a touchdown to count, the ball must break the plain (goal line) of the end zone. After a touchdown is scored the offensive team gets a chance for a point-after attempt. They have the choice of kicking the ball through the uprights for one point or they can either run or throw the ball into the end zone for two points. The point-after is attempted from the two-yard line in the NFL and from the five-yard line in the CFL.
  • Field Goal (three points): A field goal is scored by kicking a ball through the uprights. They are usually attempted on fourth downs. Teams will typically go for a field goal if 50 yards or closer because they are more likely to get the points from a field goal at this distance rather then attempting to run a touchdown.
  • Safety: A safety is worth two points and is scored when an offensive player is tackled with the ball inside his own end zone.
  • CFL vs. NFL: In the CFL, a single point can be awarded for missed field goal attempts and punts that land in the end zone. No single point is awarded in the NFL.


Differences – CFL and NFL Play


  • Fouls that happen during game play are called penalties. Most penalties are either five or 10 yards (meaning the team that gets the penalty has to move 5 or 10 yards away from the end zone) but in some instances, a penalty could result in a 10+ yard disadvantage to the offender.
  • Some penalties result in a replaying of the down.
  • If a penalty occurs before the ball is snapped, the play will be called dead.
  • If a penalty is called during a play, the play will continue and will be applied to the aftermath.

Common Penalties

False start: When a lineman on the offensive team moves before to the snap of the ball, or when any offensive player makes a quick, abrupt movement prior to the snap of the ball. This is a five-yard penalty.

Holding (defensive): When a defensive player holds or tackles an offensive player other than the ball carrier. The penalty is five yards and an automatic first down (which means the team automatically gets a gain of 10 yards).

Holding (offensive): When an offensive player uses his hands, arms, or other parts of his body to stop a defensive player from tackling the ball carrier. The penalty is 10 yards.

Pass interference: A call made by a referee who sees a defensive player make contact with the intended receiver before the ball arrives, restricting his opportunity to catch the forward pass. This penalty awards the offensive team the ball at the spot of the foul with an automatic first down.

IN TOMORROW’S LESSON: We will learn about how a “down” works in football.  Once you understand downs, football becomes much easier to understand.