Biggest difference between US and Canadian rules

IMO, the biggest difference is 3 downs vs. 4: everything else would be a minor adjustment when applied to each other's game, but the extra down in the US is one reason the American game doesn't pass as often as in the Canadian-a good running game in the US is if you can average 3 to 4 yards per carry; in Canada, 3 yards per turns the ball over on downs every time.
Agree? Disagree? Talk to me! But please, don't just counter back with "the biggest difference is that the NFL sucks," as I already get that there are plenty on this site that feel that way. Not trying to convert anyone here-just looking for (this particular time) an objective view.
commence firing; fire at will!!


The biggest difference is the field dimensions. It not only dictates strategy and play calling, it also dictates the type of athlete you recruit.

NFL is more north/south, smash mouth, system oriented football.

CFL is more athletic, improvisational, and creative with more running "after the play is made"

i agree its the 3 downs and field size…i was watching the colts game today ( last 2 mins of it ) and the field looks so small, that to me, it feels like arena league ( the dome combined with small field made it seem arena-ish )…the players dont have much space to do anything.

One of the biggest differences IMO is the 20 second play clock in the CFL versus 40 seconds in the NFL. Only having 20 seconds allows for a much faster and more entertaining game and also requires an athlete to be in much better conditioning.

I too think that the CFL game is faster.
One thing that that I feel differs from CFL vs NFL is that in a NFL game with a few minutes left the leading team can just waste time until the clock runs out. In CFL it can be 21-3 with just 2 mins left on the clock and still be anyones game.

One thing you have to remember is that while the American field is smaller, there is also one less person per team. I'm not a math major but it would be interesting if someone could do some calculations on amount of space is available per player in each league.

I love the wider field, this makes a big difference I think. The length isn't as important, it's like hockey where they say the International ice with it's width is what makes it more different than the length.

I would like to see a 15 yard end zone with the posts at the back of the end zone to allow the qb's unobstructed views of the end zone.

The CFL's field is 150 yards total by 65 yards wide while the NFL's is 120 yards by 53 1/3 yards wide. The CFL has 24 players on it at a time while the NFL has 22 players.

Therefore the space available per player is below:

290.9 yds^2 per player in the NFL.
406.25 yds^2 per player in the CFL.

Thanks roughy for those figures. If your figures are correct, then there is/should be a lot more room for passing lanes in the Canadian game, which I think we generally see as a rule but doesn't always seem as such. A lot, of course, depends on a qb finding the open receivers and having time to throw etc.

CFL --> 20 seconds from ‘time-in’ whistle after resetting the ball. Actual time elapsed between plays usually 30 - 37, 38ish seconds.

NFL --> 40 seconds from end of previous play. Actual time elapsed usually 30-37, 38 ish seconds…

The 20 second clock only really changes things under the 3 minute warning where the game clock will not run without the play clock.

Agreed. Look at the differences at linebackers. In the NFL, they are meant to stop a running back coming head on. In the CFL, they are for the most part smaller and quicker to chase down running backs and cover short passes.

(1) Timing rules. If you are winning by 10 points with 3 minutes remaining, you are practically guaranteed the win.

(2) Fair Catch Rule. How exciting watching a receiver wave to the crwod, or worse yet a bunch of guys following a bouncing ball waiting to "Down" it.

(3) 20 second clock vs 40 second clock. (And then having the NFL QB call timeout after figuring the play out for 40 deconds.

I don't think you can include field length in the calculation since the length of field used is limited by how far the QB can throw. (Players don't spread out from endzone to endzone on every play.)

If you say that the usable length is approximately the same in both leagues (i.e. the quarterback can throw just as far), then the comparison should be by width:

CFL: 2.7 yards / player
NFL: 2.4 yards / player

13% more area per player in CFL

Of course, in the red zone this changes due to end zone size. At the 20 yard line:

CFL: 65yrd * 40 yrd / 24 plrs = 108 yrd^2/plr
NFL: 53.3yrd * 30yrd / 22 plrs = 73 yrd^2/plr

48% more area per player in CFL

I'll watch football at any level and have never understood the whole CFL vs NFL thing. The only difference between US and Canadian rules that bothers me is the American fair catch and touchback. I think kick returns are the most exciting play in the sport and its frustrating to see someone as talented as a Dante Hall being stifled not by a coverage team but by the rules.

The 1-yard restraining zone at the line of scrimmage. Linemen must use different blocking techniques in Canadian football...

Also you only need 1 foot in bounds for a legal reception in Canada...

I think the trick here is to rank the importance of the various differences. I don't have a lot of time to think about it, so I'll just give it a quick go.

Biggest differences in rules:

  1. 3 downs vs 4
  2. Width of field
  3. 12 players vs 11
  4. Roster restrictions based on nationality
  5. Single points
  6. Pre-play motion
  7. Yard off the ball
    8 ) Stop-timing, play clock, time-outs, etc.
  8. Depth of end zones
  9. Number of players on active roster (less specialization in CFL)
  10. Fair catch rule, touchbacks

Biggest non-rule differences in the NFL:

  1. More money available for players = no competition for talent
  2. The hype, the gambling, the TV broadcasts ... and the hype
  3. Stronger central office = individual owners kept in check
  4. (closely related to 3) - Effective salary cap
  5. Parity through a meaningful entry draft
  6. Unlimited coaching resources (flip side: players don't need to think as much)
  7. Government subsidized stadiums
    8 ) Effectively unlimited demand for expansion teams

Although the number of 'No yards' penalties at times drives me nuts, I prefer the CFL's kicking game. The concept of the rouge adds so many possibilites, especially towards the end of a close game. And then you have the rules allowing onside players to recover punts and other kicks from scrimmage. I love it.

Without being specific, all of the rules are better.
The one American rule which I always find as rediculously extra stupid is teams walking off the field with 39 or less seconds away. Because of the crazy long 40 seconds clock the winning team can kill the clock if they have the ball and the other team has no time outs.

Having the last play if there was still time on the clock when the last one ended (CFL), as opposed to needing a penalty to get the last play with zero's on the clock (NFL)

The rules in Canadian football make the game more like rugby, The kicking game, and the 3 downs , the size of the field, are all connected to the games roots, But the forward pass and decades of import coaches has made the game more static. imho

It's interesting about rugby, the forerunner to Canadian football. I wonder if the rugby people, if they had of organized themselves better and had a pro league in North America, if this would have been the football played in North America as opposed to gridiron football now. Who knows I guess, it's all conjecture at this point but I do wonder what would have happened.

At this point though, Canadian football is for all intents and purposes American football (or vica versa I suppose) apart the rule differences that now exist and there is no going back to rugby.