What Is A Touchback In Football? 5 Facts & Explainations

Many people who watch football from home think they know more about the game than the coaches and players we see on TV every week. However, it can be hard for some people to explain what a “touchback” is.

American football has a lot of different words for positions or roles that don’t happen very often, and a touchback is no different.

If you asked a lot of people, “What is a touchback in football?” they might give you an answer that sounds about right, but the term actually refers to a few different things and situations.

So, this article, written by a football coach who has seen it all, from college football to high school hopefuls, is meant to help you become an expert on what it means.

Football Term: Touchback

A touchback happens when the ball is caught pretty close to the end zone, which is usually when a kickoff is made. In that case, the team that gets the ball will line up with it on their 25-yard line.

Except for kickoffs, the game will begin with the ball on the 20-yard line.

Most of the time, this kind of thing happens when the ball is kicked off or when a punt is made. At that point, the player who gets the ball can do one of two things to make the touchback rule happen.

For example, they can kneel in the end zone or just let the ball cross the goal line. When the ball crosses the goal line, the play is over.

What Is A Touchback In Football

If the player who has the ball doesn’t keep it, the kicking team could get it back and score a touchdown. Yeah, you don’t want to see them in your end zone after they drop the ball. It’s a terrible feeling.

So you’re getting used to it, right?

Well, that does sound pretty clear, but college football has different rules.

College Football Touchback Rule

College football rules aren’t too different from NFL rules, but there is one big difference that was added not too long ago. In fact, the “fair catch” rule was made for the 2018-19 season.

So, any fair catch of a kickoff or free kick between the goal line and the 25-yard line of the team receiving the ball is considered a “touchback.”

EG: If a team calls “fair catch” on their 20-yard line, the play is called a “touchback,” and the ball goes to their 25-yard line.

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So, the next time someone asks you, “What is a touchback in college football?” you can thank us and think about this article. Just think about how smart you will seem.

NFL Touchback Rule

The NFL rulebook has a lot to say about touchbacks, just like it does about any other rule. Since they are the main source of information about American football, they need to be clear and direct about what happens on the field of play.

What Is A Touchback In Football

The main definition of the touchback rule is when “the ball is dead on or behind the goal line a team is defending, as long as the momentum comes from the opponent and it is not a touchdown or an incomplete pass.”

List Of Instances When A Touchback Can Happen

  • The ball is out of play and in the other team’s end zone.
  • The ball is behind the goal line and out of play.
  • The team that is getting the kick hasn’t touched it yet.
  • Any kick, legal or not, that hits the receiver’s goalposts is a touchdown (other than a field goal attempt).
  • When the kickers try to get in the way of the receiver catching the ball, this is called a “kick block.”
  • When a player on the team that kicked the ball catches it illegally and then takes it across the other team’s line, this is called a “foul.”

If any of the above things happen, it will lead to a touchback. So, watch out for them when you kick off or punt the ball or when it goes out of bounds.

Rules Changes For When A Touchback Occurs

In American football, the touchback rule is actually pretty new. Even though we’re used to rules changing every once in a while, the touchback rule hasn’t changed much since it was first added to the game in 1926.

Who would have thought that something hasn’t changed much in over 100 years?

During the roaring 1920s, if a kick went out of bounds in the end zone, it was a touchback. Aren’t we all hoping for the same thing after this year? In fact, that’s how all types of American football were played until 2012, 86 years later, when the NCAA got involved.

What Is A Touchback In Football

The 20-yard line was where the ball was placed before the NCAA changed it to the 25-yard line. The NFL then did something similar for a short time after four years, which seemed to set off a chain reaction.

Then, in 2018, that changed for the better, and the main reason was worries about player safety.

Both leagues seemed to think that if the receiving team had a better spot on the field after a touchback, they would be more likely to take it, which would cut down on the number of returns and help the cause.

When The New Touchback Rule Backfired

In every sport in the world, players and coaches will always find ways to get around the rules to get those much-desired small wins.

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That’s what happened when football teams realized that their special teams could just kick the ball a short distance at a very high altitude. When done right, this would force the other team to catch the ball behind their 5-yard line, but in front of their end zone.

Of course, that would make them want to return it, so the touchback rule would almost be useless.

Touchback Rule: The Battle From The Leagues

So, when something like that happens and smart coaches find ways around the rules, you have to expect the relevant leagues to fight back, and, you guessed it, that’s exactly what the NCAA was trying to do in 2012.

What Is A Touchback In Football

With the fair catch option from behind the 25-yard line, where it’s usually safe, not many teams could be stuck that way. I have to say, “very smart.” Still, based on what I’ve seen football coaches do with special teams over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if some genius comes up with another way to get around it in the future.

Oh, football coaches.We don’t like being told what to do, do we?

The NFL made a change to how they interpreted the rule in 2018. This was also done to make sure that dangerous collisions between players running at full speed at the end were mostly a thing of the past.

For a touchback, the player on the receiving team wouldn’t have to kneel in the end zone after 2018. Oh, no, they didn’t have to do anything but hope that the ball went out of bounds or that the receiver who was supposed to catch it called “fair catch.”

Kickoffs Vs. Punts – The Touchback Difference

If you’re not sure what’s going on, there is a way to make sense of it all.

Because the two teams are so close to each other, the playbook spends most of its time on the touchback rules for a kick-off rather than a punt.

On a kickoff, players are naturally farther away from each other, and the 15 yards of green space can give top-level athletes all the room they need to get going. If you’ve ever been tackled by a big player, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I still get chills when I think about it. Pittsburgh, 2005, yikes I can’t even remember when I landed!

As you probably already know, when a punt is made, the two teams line up much closer to each other. Even though you still have to be ready for a physical battle when dealing with the punting team, there is more safety because there is less room to run into and build up speed.

How Is A Touchback Different From A Safety?

If this is your first time hearing about American football, I have two things to tell you. First of all, thanks for making it this far. Second, things are about to get a little more complicated. You’ve made it this far, so stay with us.

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So, a safety happens when the offensive team makes a mistake in its own end zone or when a team’s kick or punt sends the ball behind its own end zone. Also, if the player with the ball is behind the goal line, he is out of bounds.

What Is A Touchback In Football

What’s the difference between this and a touchback? Well, football fans will always tell you to pay attention to which team has the ball and which end zone you are looking at.


  • Safety: When an offensive player with possession of the ball is tackled within their end zone or if the football goes out of bounds across the back of the end zone.
  • Touchback: When an offensive player loses the ball, and it then goes off the field through the opponent’s end zone. Also, if the receiving team recovers the ball in their own end zone.

Easy to understand, right? Don’t worry; it’s a rule that almost everyone gets wrong, but if you remember those two things, you’ll soon be able to tell the difference between a touchback and a safety with your eyes closed!

If you had seen some of the referees I know who have made mistakes like that, you might have thought they were sleeping.

Frequently Asked Question

How Is Responsibility Determined In A Touchback?

American football rules say that the person who is responsible for a “touchback” is the person who pushed the ball over the goal line, whether a player was holding the ball or not.

How Do They Decide What The Impetus Is?

Most of the time, a kick, pass, or even a fumble of the ball is thought to be the starting point.

Is A Touchback Part Of The Playbook In American Football?

A touchback isn’t really a play, but it is seen as something that needs to happen because of what happened in a play.

It’s like a chain of events.

What Is A Touchback In Football

What Is The Main Difference Between A Touchback And A Safety?

Try to think of a “touchback” as the exact opposite of a “safety.”

A safety is scored when the team on defence is to blame for the ball not moving (either above or behind their own goal).

Final Thoughts

Even if you’re not a big football fan, you’ve probably seen the touchback many times over the years without really understanding what makes it different.

Still, this article should have helped you figure out what it is.

Keep in mind that a touchback happens when the ball stops moving or is behind the goal line of the team that is defending. As long as the other team starts the play, it is a “touchback.”

Since 1926, the rule has only changed a few times. It’s an important part of the game, and at this point, you should be pretty good at the catch rule.

Think about how smart you’ll sound! Here is a forward pass and the final word on how to touch back the ball. Now you can find them as easily as field goals.

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