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Football fields look big, whether you see them on television, or in real life at a park, school, or stadium. There’s a lot of green turf, and all those white lines kind of make them look bigger. How do football fields compare in size with, say, an acre?
A single, full football field cannot fit entirely in an acre. Football fields are bigger than an acre, but not by much. You can fit about ¾ of a football field into an acre.
A football field’s size might be better explained this way: they represent about 1⅓ acres. Officially, National Football League fields including end zones are 1.32 acres in size.
Most people automatically think or say that a football field is 100 yards long. It’s not entirely true.
The end zones are in play during action, and officially are part of the field, so in reality, NFL fields are 120 yards long.
The distance between the rear corners of the end zones, long-wise, is 360 feet.
National Football League fields are 53 ⅓ yards wide. Canadian Football League (CFL) fields are wider, at 65 yards; while Arena Football League fields were 85 feet side (a little more than half the 160 feet of NFL fields).
The CFL and AFL fields are sized that way to accommodate the style of play, or limitations in space, respectively.
Measured differently than in yards, football fields are 300 feet long (a yard is 3 feet, times 100 yards). It’s a good way to estimate things out in open spaces, by imagining the length of a football field.
Tack on another 20 yards length-wise to include the end zones.
The entire length of football fields can fit easily into top-level baseball fields, which have the closest outfield fences about 330 feet away, with center fields at 400 feet or longer away from home plate.
Out in the non-sports world, the location of shark attacks is often reported in the media as, “About 100 yards off shore.” So, 300 feet away from dry sand, which is not exactly close by. A hundred yards is further off the shoreline than one might imagine; so a lot of shark attacks are not occurring really close to shore like in the movies.
People can see the lines on football fields sitting “only” 5 yards apart, and assume it’s not very far. In reality, it’s 15 feet ~ or way longer than the distance from the free-throw line to the backboard in basketball. Five yards is not just a couple of steps (unless you’re Michael Jordan).
Five yards carrying the weight of the football and dodging big tacklers is a significant distance.
Why are football fields measured in yards, and not in feet? To the point: early football organizers found it was hard to keep track of action using the smaller measurement unit.
Way back when American football began (mid-late 1800s), fields were measured in feet. But not long after, football proponents learned they needed an easier way to track the action. For that they needed a larger measurement unit, which ended up being the yard ~ or units of 3 feet each.
Football as a sport must be measured as play progresses, to see how close (or far away) an offensive team is to a 1st down. Distance doesn’t mean anything in baseball play, except when the ball is hit further than the distance of the outfield fence from home plate.
How Football Fields are Striped and Divided
The well-known 100 yards of a football field are striped to show 5-yard increments, from goal line to goal line. This helps players, teams, and referees (and fans) to gauge the distance of 10 yards, or the marker for where the next 1st down can be gained.
The vertical lines (if a football field is placed on its side) make the field resemble a gridiron ~ which is why you hear the game referred to as such quite often. (A gridiron is a frame of metal bars or beams, that are parallel, and all arranged at right angles to bars or beams on the sides. Like the top of a barbecue, the metal grill over the heat source).
Those vertical lines at 5-yard increments also help spot the football after plays end. Down the middle of football fields from end zone to end zone are little white stripes, dotted at every yard mark. These are hash marks, and they guide where the ball will be placed once a play stops.
In early football, wherever a ball carrier was tackled, that spot was where the next play was to begin. This proved problematic when a runner or receiver was tackled way off to the side, close to a sideline.
Then, the offensive team might have to use an unbalanced line (more players on 1 side of the center than the other), and struggle to not get trapped on that side of the field.
The solution was hash marks. Today, when a tackle occurs outside the hash marks, the ball will be placed on the nearest hash mark to start the next play. That’s why hash marks go down the center of football fields ~ they ensure plays begin closer to the center and therefore allow plenty of room to roam in either direction.
However, if you count only the “playing” part of NFL fields, between the goal lines and not counting the end zones at either end, the football field and acre are nearly the same ~ 1.1 football fields sans end zones per acre.
The first written rules for football field sizes came from the collegiate level, as the game was still evolving from its rugby roots.
Players from Ivy League schools Princeton, Yale, Rutgers, and Columbia gathered in 1873, where they set the standard field of play as 400 feet by 250 feet. From that point, the field size was tinkered with well into the 20th century.
The 53 ⅓ yard width was introduced in 1882. The field was not shortened from 110 yards to 100 yards until 1912.
Early on, American football pioneers came to understand that their fields did not have to be as well-manicured as those of soccer or rugby, because in the new game of football the ball was carried by players off the ground.
The other sports needed well-groomed grass so the balls that were to roll on them would provide “true” bounces, that is, avoid what they call bad hops in baseball.
However, they also knew football would involve more human bodies crashing to the turf repeatedly ~ the action of a tackle is to knock the opponent off his feet, to touch a part of his body at the knees or higher on the ground.
So over time football fields became more moist, you could say. Football field maintenance managers did not worry about over-watering, as it made the field softer for landing when tackling.
In fact, American football is among the rare sports where weather and bad environmental settings are not supposed to disrupt play. Football games are not canceled due to rain or snow (very often). You just get wetter or muddier play.
They can’t do that in baseball for safety reasons, primarily, the ability of the pitcher to throw the ball accurately. Baseball also is heavily dependent on the eyes, to work in hand-eye coordination, and too much moisture in the eyes blurs vision.
The acre comes from the Middle Ages in what today is Great Britain. The concept was, an acre is the area of land that could be plowed by 1 man with a team of 8 oxen in 1 day. Technical, huh?
Back then, the math was 1 chain by 1 furlong ~ or 66 feet by 660 feet. It’s exactly the equivalent of 10 square chains.
Did the originators of American football care about the size of an acre? Most likely not, since much of how football fields we see today are arranged was derived from the game of rugby.
Soccer fields (called the pitch) are larger than American football fields, and cover 1.5 acres in total. You could fit 16 tennis courts into an acre.
While baseball fields are not measured in yards, fans ask the reason quite often. We discussed baseball fields and yards[LINK https://baseballscouter.com/how-many-yards-is-a-baseball-field/ ] previously.
Question: Why are there different sizes of football fields?
Answer: Choices by leagues for the style of play desired. Passing offenses fare better with more space to play with, so the CFL has wider fields, and therefore games that are more passing-oriented (and higher scoring). Football played inside indoor arenas, obviously, have smaller fields: 50 yards long (half of a regular football field without end zones), and 85 feet wide. Basically everything is halved. (The Arena Football League went bankrupt in 2019, but there are plans to revive the operation under new management for 2024)
Q.: What is the square footage of a National Football League field?
A.: NFL fields are 57,600 square feet. An acre is 43,560 square feet. Mathematically, you can fit 0.75625 football fields into an acre.
Q.: How many acres does it take to fill a square mile?