What is the difference between Canadian and American Football?

Contrary to popular belief, Canadian football is significantly different from the Gridiron played in America. From the number of players to rules and points, there are plenty of differences avid fans might have noticed.

Of course, these differences don’t necessarily mean one league is superior to the other. But when you think about it, some CFL rules would improve the NFL and vice versa. That said, below is a comparison of the two types of football.

Playing Area

Canadian football fields are slightly larger than their NFL counterparts. On the one hand, CFL fields measure 110 x 65 yards. On the other, American football pitches have 100 x 53 1/3 yards. Essentially, CFL fields are longer and wider than their American counterparts.

To be precise, Canadian fields are 34% bigger than NFL fields. That’s a significant difference in size, at least for players who have to cover the extra space. The pitch size contrast also poses a challenge to Canadian football teams; however, they’ve attempted to play their game in the US.

In the 1990s, for example, new CFL teams established to expand the league in the US played on either baseball fields or modified NFL stadiums. The now liquidated Baltimore Stallions, for instance, would play on the then Memorial baseball Stadium.

Team Size

Canadian football teams have twelve players instead of eleven on each side. The twelfth man plays on the offence but from a backfield position. In American football, this is the equivalent of defensive backs.

Due to the differences in team size, the CFL lacks the tight end position. Instead, teams have two slotbacks. Again, CFL teams feature two defensive halfbacks as opposed to one safety—like in the NFL.

Fair Catches and Punt Returns

In American football, punt returners can wave their hands to signal that they might not be able to catch and advance gameplay immediately. By rules, opposing teams must allow him to catch the ball without interference.

This rule is known as the fair catch rule. It sounds unjust to the opposing team, but fairness rules are not uncommon in soccer, basketball and other sports. Even online casinos like Dreamz Casino have fairness rules. They apply them to their games to ensure that each gambler has a chance at winning.

That said, the CFL doesn’t have such a rule. Instead, opposing players are mandated to stay five yards away from the ball. Again, they can’t attack until the opponent punter catches the ball.

Number of Downs

Perhaps the most glaring difference between CFL and NFL football regards the number of downs on each side. The CFL has three downs compared to the NFL’s four. Due to that, CFL offence players tend to be more aggressive in passing the 10-yard mark.

Unlike any other difference, the number of downs draws a lot of critics’ attention where Gridiron is played. In the NFL, some commentators argue that the extra down causes players to relax and become more open to plays rather than showing aggression.

On the flip side, CFL fans use the passion ignited from CFL players as a reason why it’s arguably superior to the NFL. Of course, that comes from CFL players having to work harder for yards in the short time they have.


In both the CFL and the NFL, the starter performs a snap to commence play. By default, the center in a CFL team must pass the ball between his legs. Most Americans kick start plays the same, although they are not mandated to do so.

Another difference concerns the distance between the defensive team and the scrimmage zone. In Canadian football, the gap is one complete yard. By comparison, the length is eleven inches in the NFL.

These differences unsurprisingly impact how CFL and NFL players react to defensive or offensive plays. In Canadian football, for example, the significant distance forces players to fight off on third or third and some inches.

In the NFL, the close distance creates the impression of players being nose-to-nose to one another. It also forces teams to train their offences to form lines that are almost impossible to penetrate.

Movements During a Snap

The CFL allows backfield players bar the quarterback from being in motion before a snap. In fact, they can move in whatever direction they want as long as they are behind the line of scrimmage.

In contrast, only one player in American Football can be in motion during a snap. Again, he can’t be moving toward the scrimmage zone. As a result, defensive sides in American football are much less likely to be confused like those in the CFL.

Time Rules

In Canadian football, teams must start play within 20 seconds of the referee blowing the whistle. The rule applies to all levels of the game and regardless of the preceding situation.

In American Football, however, this time rule differs based on several situations. For example, teams must commence a play after 20 seconds in junior divisions such as high school. This time rule applies to all circumstances.

In college football and the NFL, however, teams have 4o seconds to commence the second or consecutive play. However, they have 25 seconds if the game is beginning after a penalty.

When it comes to time outs, the NFL has three timeouts in each half, whereas the CFL has two. The NFL also enforces a two-minute warning, whereas Canadian football teams impose a three-minute warning.

Points per Touchdown

Both the NFL and the CFL allow attacking teams to attempt additional points after a touchdown. They can do that through kicks or from the scrimmage zone. That said, the two leagues differ in where the ball is placed to fight for more points.

In the CFL, the ball is positioned in the 25-yard line if a team is attempting a 3-yard attempt. Otherwise, they place it on the 3-yard line for a conversion attempt. By contrast, NFL teams place the ball in the 15-yard line for a 33-yard try and the 2-yard line for a conversion attempt.

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