In the NFL and presumably in most football leagues, the goal lines, yard lines, and hash marks are all four inches wide. The hash marks/yard lines are painted at 36-inch intervals; that is, they are 32 inches apart so that they mark exactly one yard each. Easy enough.

However, doesn't this make the field between goal lines exactly 99 yards and 32 inches from goal line to goal line? It is less than one hundred yards, right?

Since that cannot be, I must conclude that the rear of the defensive goal line is the actual defensive goal line. Am I right?

Come to think of it, this would be consistent with how balls are spotted. On a touchback, for example, the ball is spotted with the nose just kissing the back edge of the 20-yard line. Thus a ball spotted at the one-yard line would just kiss the painted hash mark, and so a ball spotted at the one-inch line would be three inches behind the front of the goal line, which we normally think of as "in the end zone," but it must not be so.

I suppose it would only matter in the question of a loss of yards from scrimmage or a terrible kick return within four inches of the goal line. If a ball carrier is down by contact with the nose of the ball spotted three inches behind the front plane of the defensive team's goal line, this must not be a safety/touchback, right? That is, the ball can be spotted for a play from scrimmage with its nose at three inches behind the front of the painted goal line (one inch from the back of the painted goal line), from which the offense would have to advance 99 yards and 35 inches for a touchdown. Is this right?

  • While there's theoretical question here, in practical terms I don't think it really matters whether the field is 100 yards, 99 yards and 35 inches or 99 yards and 32 inches as the ball isn't spotted to inch level accuracy after every play anyway. – Philip Kendall Jan 2 '16 at 8:18
  • Yet, on a possible safety very close to the goal line, I could see instant replay as possibly discerning touching the middle vs. the front of the painted goal line. – Patrick Szalapski Nov 7 '17 at 16:29

A touchdown is actually when a ball is on, above, or behind the plane of the goal line. So to answer at least a part of the question, as soon as the ball goes into the white line at all, it's a touchdown.


A safety is basically the inverse of this. The ball is considered in the end-zone until the entire ball is in the field of play (beyond the plane of the white line of the end zone.) So if the spot of the ball leaves any part of the ball on the white line at all, it's a safety. That is my interpretation at least.

I've been using this resource: http://operations.nfl.com/the-rules/2015-nfl-rulebook#section-5-safety

  • Could you provide a reference to support this assertion? – Philip Kendall Jan 3 '16 at 15:28
  • I don't think you fully read the question. I am asking about the defensive goal line, which is only relevant in a question of a safety or touchback. – Patrick Szalapski Jan 3 '16 at 17:13
  • Your revision doesn't really fully explain it, I fear. If you are right, that would mean a football field (excluding end zones) is 99.89 yards long, not 100. – Patrick Szalapski Jan 29 '16 at 16:55
  • 1
    Them's the rules. I guess people should say 99.89 instead of 100 then. – tutley Jan 29 '16 at 19:35

One of the very first rules of the game is this: "The game shall be played upon a field 360 feet long" And both ends of the football matter as far as spotting. That is why it must just barely cross the end zone to be a touchdown, and why it must completely cross from the end zone out so as not to be a safety. I think those are all agreed upon. The problem is with the 50=yard line. It is 50 yards from the far side of it to each end zone, making the field of play 4" shorter than 100 yards.* And that is the irony since Rule 1 says it must be 100 yards (360').

  • In a perfect world, the centerline would be 50 yards from each end zone, say a line drawn with a pencil. But it is not: It is 4 inches wide, as are all the others. Part of the problem is in crossing from one side of the field to the other, say from one "40" to the other "40". A 20 yard change should net the same side of the yard marker. I know these would not both be called as on the 40 yard line, but am using them to make my point about which side of the line the yardage should be calculated or equal to. Another way to look at it would be if I have the front of the ball on the goal zone side of my own 1 yard line. That means there are 99 yards to the other end zone, meaning there are only 32" back to my own end zone, meaning the field is 4" short.
  • Your first sentence is the only one to address the question, and it doesn't do so with any basis in the rules. – Nij Dec 3 '17 at 5:56

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