What Football Playing Field White Lines Mean
3 of 5 in Series: The Essentials of Football Game Play
White lines on a football field are critical to playing the game. By knowing what yard lines, hash lines, and end lines represent, you’ll have an easier time following the game.
The dimensions of a football field haven’t changed much through the years. The field has been 100 yards long and 531/3 yards wide since 1881. In 1912, the two end zones were established to be 10 yards deep and have remained so ever since. Consequently, all football games are played on a rectangular field, 360 feet long and 160 feet wide.
All over the field, you see a bunch of white lines. Every line has a special meaning, as shown here:
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.
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. 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 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 18½ 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.