How the Football Season Is Set Up

The American football season is different for high school, college, and pro teams. Teams at every level play during a standard season and are governed by various football leagues, such as the NFL and NCAA.

The heart of the football season is during the fall months. However, training camps, practices, and preseason games often begin in the summer, and playoffs and bowl games are staged after Christmas and into February. Here's how the season breaks down for each level of play:

  • High school football teams usually play between eight and ten games in a season, starting after Labor Day. If teams have successful league seasons, they advance to regional or state playoff tournaments. Some schools in Texas play as many as 15 games if they advance to the state championship game. Most high school teams play in a regional league, although some travel 50 to 100 miles to play opponents.
  • College football teams play between 10 and 13 games, the majority in a specific conference — Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and so on. The top teams from Division I-A (generally the largest schools that offer the most money for athletic scholarships) advance via invitation to post-season bowl games, which take place at more than 32 sites across the country. At the top level is the BCS, which pits the two top-ranked teams in a game for the national championship that is held each year at a different site — the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Orange Bowl.
  • NFL teams play 16 regular-season games, preceded by a minimum of 4 preseason games that are played in August. The 32 NFL teams are divided into two conferences, the NFC and the AFC, and the top six teams from each conference advance to the playoffs with hopes of reaching the Super Bowl, which is played in early February.

Football is pretty much a weekend sport, although the NFL began Monday Night Football in 1970, offering a marquee matchup between two of the league's better teams. (The Monday night game is almost always ranked in the top ten television shows for the week, and Monday Night Football is the longest-running prime-time entertainment series.) A few Thursday games are broadcast during the college and pro season, and ESPN recently began televising games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. However, in general, the football season, which begins in earnest right around Labor Day, follows an orderly pattern:

  • High school games are generally played on Friday nights.
  • College games are played on Saturdays, mostly during the day, although a few are held at night and showcased on prime-time television.
  • The NFL plays on Sundays. For television purposes, games start at 1 p.m. EDT and 4:15 p.m. EDT. One Monday night game is played, which is a national game televised on ESPN, the largest cable-sports network.
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