Meaning of the marks on the football field
All over the field, you see a bunch of white lines. Every line has a special meaning,
- The lines at each end of the field are called the end lines.
- The lines along each side of the field are called the sidelines.
- The goal lines are 10 yards inside and parallel to each end line.
- The area bounded by the goal lines and sidelines is known as the field of play.
- The field is divided in half by the 50-yard line, which is located in the middle of the field.
- The two areas bounded by the goal lines, end lines, and sidelines are known as the end zones.
The field also contains yard lines, hash marks, and lines marking the player benches, which I describe in detail in the following sections. To make all these white lines, teams use paint or marking chalk. They're even painting grass fields these days. The end lines and sidelines are 4 inches wide and rimmed by a solid white border that's a minimum of 6 feet wide. All boundary lines, goal lines, and marked yard lines are continuous lines until they intersect with one another. When players are in possession of the ball inside these white lines, they're considered to be in play, and the ball is live. For more on being out of bounds, see the sidebar "When you've gone too far."
Yard lines Yard lines, at intervals of 5 yards, run parallel to the goal lines and are marked across the field from sideline to sideline. These lines stop 8 inches short of the 6-foot solid border in the NFL. Yard lines give players and fans an idea of how far a team must advance the ball in order to record a first down. As Chapter 3 explains in detail, an offensive team must gain 10 yards in order to post a first down. Consequently, every 10 yards, starting from the goal lines, the field is numbered in multiples of 10. In the NFL, the bottoms of these numbers are placed 12 yards from each sideline. The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, and one 50-yard line are 2 yards in length. All these lines and numbers are white.
Hash marks Hash marks mark each yard line 70 feet, 9 inches from the sidelines in the NFL. In high school and college football, the hash marks are only 60 feet from the sidelines. Two sets of hash marks (each hash is 1 yard in length) run parallel to each other down the length of the field and are approximately 181⁄2 feet apart. When the ball carrier is either tackled or pushed out of bounds, the officials return the ball in-bounds to the closest hash mark to where it's spotted. Punted balls that go out of bounds are also marked on the nearest hash mark. The hash marks are used for ball placement prior to most offensive plays so that more of the game can be played in the middle of the field, which makes the game more wide open. If the ball was placed 20 feet from where it went out of bounds rather than on the closest hash mark, offenses would be restricted to one open side of the field for many of their run and pass plays. In other words, they would have to run or pass to the right or the left, and wouldn't have the option to do both. But, when teams run the football and the ball carrier is tackled between the hash marks, the ball is declared dead at that spot and generally is placed where the ball carrier was tackled and stopped. An important thing to remember is that an incomplete pass is returned to the spot of the preceding play, not where it actually goes out of bounds or where the quarterback was standing when he threw it.
Player benches Six feet outside the border of the field, or 6 feet from the sidelines, is an additional broken white line that defines an area in which only coaches and substitute players may stand. Six feet farther behind this broken white line is where the bench area begins. The team congregates in the bench area during a game, watching their teammates play or resting on the benches. Within this area, team doctors and trainers also examine injured players. All NFL bench areas are a minimum of 30 feet deep, and they extend to each 32-yard line. Bench areas in college football extend to the 25-yard lines. Most high school fields aren't as restrictive as NFL fields, although many adhere to the same dimensions, particularly the 25-yard line limit at both ends. In the bench area, which is off-limits to fans and media walking the sideline area, quarterbacks and other players can use telephones on a communications table to talk with coaches that are located high above the stadium in rooms reserved for members of the coaching staff. Also, team officials use telephones from this area to inform the team's public relations staff of player injuries. This information is then relayed to members of the media (newspaper reporters, magazine writers, and radio broadcasters) in the press box area and to the television trucks so that their announcers can inform the viewing audience.