Most football fans are very proud of their knowledge and can tell you what a “touchback” is.
Fans like touchbacks, but they wouldn’t be able to name all the possible outcomes if you asked them.
This is because, even though the touchback seems simple, it can have a number of different results.
What does “touchback” mean in football?
The ball is considered to have been touched back if it is kicked and then returned to the end zone or if a fair catch is called.
If the kick goes out of bounds, the team getting the ball gets it at their own 25-yard line. In every other case, the ball is placed at the opponent’s 20-yard line.
At first glance, the idea seems simple, but we’ve only scratched the surface here. Read on to learn how the rules change between the college level and the professional level.
How Touchbacks Happen in Football
In American football, a touchback can happen in many different ways. I’ll talk about how college football rules are different from NFL rules in a bit. Since the attacking team is the one who crossed the goal line, they can’t get a touchback.
Most touchbacks in football happen when the ball is kicked off or punted. When the receiver kneels in the end zone or lets the ball cross the goal line, this is called a “touchback.”
If the team that is fielding the ball loses it, the team that is kicking may score a touchdown by getting it back.
Also, I’ll talk about how a rule change made it so NFL players no longer had to kneel in the end zone. In the National Football League, a touchback is when a kickoff goes over the goal line.
So, kick returners sometimes let the ball fall and let it roll toward the goal line of the other team.
The goal is to get a touchback and get the ball back near your 25-yard line instead of deep in your own territory.
It works, but it lets the team that is kicking go far into the end zone of the team that is receiving.
If a member of the kicking team touches the ball in the end zone, this is called a “touchback.”
A touchback can happen even when the team is on offense. They happen when the offense gives up control of the ball in the end zone, giving the defense a chance to score.
It is a touchback if, for example, Team A is about to score but throws an interception into the end zone of their opponent, and then Team B downs the ball in the same end zone.
If Team A loses the ball in the end zone and Team B picks it up in the same end zone, both teams score. Team B will get a safety if they cross the goal line and go right back into the end zone.
If the fumble happens inside the end zone, it’s called a “touchback,” and the defensive player has to wait until the ball is inside the end zone to get it.
If he catches the ball outside the end zone and runs with it into the end zone, there won’t be a touchback. Instead, the spot where he touched the ball is marked and the ball is given to the other team at that point.
The defense gets a “touchback” if the offense loses control of the ball in the end zone. If the defense tries to hit or kick the ball out of play, they will get a penalty.
NFL Touchback Rules
The NFL rules are clear about the different kinds of touchbacks. Since the NFL is the richest and most watched American football league in the world, this is to be expected.
According to the official rules of the National Football League, “the ball is dead on or past the goal line that a team is defending if the force comes from an opponent and it is neither a touchdown nor an incomplete throw.”
The rulebook also tells you when touchbacks can be called, as you can see below. This can only happen if the ball was kicked or kicked past the goal line. If any of the following things happen:
- The ball is dead in the opponent’s possession in its end zone
- The ball is out of bounds behind the goal line
- A kick has not been touched by the receiving team and the ball:
- Touches the ground on or behind the receivers goal line
- Touches a player on the kicking team who is touching the ball on or behind the receiver’s goal line
- Touches a player on the kicking team who has touched the ground on or behind the receiver’s goal line and has not re-established himself in play
- Any legal or illegal kick, other than one which scores a field goal, touches the receiver’s goal posts
- If the kicking team interferes with the receiver’s ability to catch the ball or call fair catch while they are in their end zone
- If a player of the kicking team illegally catches or recovers a scrimmage kick in the field of play, and carries the ball across the goal line, or touches the goal line with any part of his body while in possession of the ball
We have to call a touchback if any of these things happen. When a kickoff goes through the end zone (called a “touchback”), the team that gets the ball gets it at their own 25-yard line.
If a touchback doesn’t happen during a kickoff, the ball will be put on the team’s own 20-yard line.
College Football Touchback Rules
The rules for touchbacks in college football are mostly the same as those in the NFL, with one big difference. A recent ruling backed fair catches for the 2018-2019 season.
Any fair reception of a kickoff or free kick between the 25-yard line and the goal line on the receiving side will result in a touchback. If a team on its own 20-yard line calls “fair catch,” the ball is sent back to the team’s own 25-yard line.
Since the kickoff is the most dangerous play in football, this rule was made to keep players safe.
By making this rule about fair catches, we made sure that more kickoffs would result in touchbacks. If there are more touchbacks and less returns, there will be less chance of harm.
How the Touchback Rules Have Evolved
The touchback is one of the few things about football that has mostly stayed the same since it started. In 1926, any kick that went out of bounds inside the end zone was called a “touchback.”
In the modern era, the 2016 and 2018 NFL seasons and the 2012 NCAA season are the only ones that don’t follow this pattern.
A 2012 NCAA rule change moved touchbacks on kickoffs from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line. In 2016, the NFL did the same thing. It was only a temporary rule until 2018, when it was changed permanently.
The change was made for the same reason as the fair catch rule, which is to protect the players. The two leagues thought that there would be fewer returns if the team that got the ball after a touchback had a better field position.
Unfortunately, kicking teams quickly figured out that they could get around the rule by kicking the ball high and low. So, the team that was getting the ball had to grab it after the 5-yard line but before the goal line.
Since there was no option for a touchback, the team that got the kick had to try to return it or risk the ball going out of bounds.
The team that kicks the ball will hopefully get a good bounce off the ground and force the team that gets the ball to play from deep inside their own territory.
The NCAA’s answer was the fair catch rule I just talked about. Behind their own 25-yard line, the team getting the ball can call “fair catch” to avoid getting pinned. Also, reducing high-risk, high-reward plays.
In 2018, the NFL made a small change to how touchbacks on kickoffs work. This meant that players no longer had to take a knee in the end zone. Under the old rules, a receiver had to take a knee in the end zone to be counted as “down.”
By changing the rule, the receiver would no longer have to take a knee in the end zone to force a touchback. Only if the ball is caught in the end zone does the receiver have to call “fair catch.”
The goal of this rule change was to cut down on players running into each other at high speeds.
It’s possible that the difference between how a kickoff and a punt are set up is why touchback rules are so different for kickoffs. On a kickoff, there is usually at least 15 yards of space between the two teams.
On a punt, however, they are lined up straight with their blockers, which makes accidents less likely.
Touchback vs Safety
A safety is called when the offense commits a foul in its own end zone, knocks the ball out of bounds in its own end zone, or is called down while in possession of the ball in its own end zone.
If the defensive team tackles the offensive player while he is still in the end zone, they may get a safety.
When a defensive player inside the end zone tackles an offensive player from outside the end zone, the play stops where the offensive player was going when they were tackled.
A safety can also be called when a player in the end zone loses control of the ball and goes out of bounds. During the 2008 season, quarterback Dan Orlovsky left the end zone through the back door to avoid getting hit.
The team that caused the safety gets a free kick from the other team’s 20-yard line. If you let a safety happen, the other team gets two points and you lose control of the ball.
Touchbacks and safeties are often mixed up with each other because they both happen in the end zone. It’s important to always know which team has the ball and which end zone a play is happening in.
When an offensive player is tackled in their own end zone or when the ball goes out of bounds behind their own end zone, this is called a safety.
A touchback happens when the offensive team loses control of the ball and it either goes out of bounds or is picked up by the defensive team in their own end zone.
What Is the Goal Line in Football?
In football, the goal line is a white line that runs along the front edge of the end zone. During a kickoff, the ball has crossed the goal line if it touches or breaks the goal line’s plane.
Even if the ball doesn’t go all the way into the end zone, it still counts as a touchdown.
What Is the Field of Play Called in Football?
Most people call the American football field the “field,” but the “gridiron” is another name for it. A gridiron is a football field with lines that look like a grid or checkerboard. It was used in the early days of the sport.
What Is a Field Goal in Football?
A field goal is worth three points if it is kicked from a certain spot on the field. When they are in the red zone or on fourth down, the team trying to score will often try to kick a field goal.
Teams almost always go for a field goal if they’re close enough to kick it when deciding whether to punt or try a field goal.
What Is Special Teams in Football?
All of the players who take part in the kicking plays are on the special teams.
These players are in charge of things like kicking field goals, blocking punts, and returning kickoffs as part of the special teams. Even though they are important, special teams aren’t always given enough credit.