Moving the hashmarks in the NFL

In the NFL, the hashmarks are the same as a width of the goalposts, 18.5’ apart. In NCAA, the hashmarks are 40’ wide. Aside from the kicking game which would be obviously impacted near the goal line, what would be the impact to the game if the NFL hashmarks were widened again?

Would offenses develop that take advantage of the extra space on one side of the field? Lots of pulling guards and leading blockers on the wide side? Flooding the wide side with receivers? Would teams develop O-lines and D-lines that could switch sides depending on the ball spot?

Just a random thought that came to me on a run today.

I seem to recall learning that when the hashmarks were moved inward, the running game benefited because running backs had more room to work with on the “near” side of the field. It was easier to for them to turn up the field before getting forced out of bounds by the defense.

I imagine a move of the hashmarks back outward would be disadvantageous to the offense.

This article, which notes that the hashmarks were moved in 1972 (I had not realized it happened as late as that), demonstrates that the move did, indeed, strongly benefit the running game as well as the kicking game.

I don’t see a good reason why the NFL would ever move them back away from the center portion of the field; for the past 45 years, the league has instituted numerous rules changes which are designed to help the offense, and a “short side” of the field is likely to benefit defenses far more than offenses.

I’m trying to understand why hashmarks are even needed. Why not just let the offense line up wherever it pleases, as long as certain rules (such as 7 men on line of scrimmage when ball snapped) are still followed?

If there were a change to make the NCAA match the NFL, wouldn’t it be more likely that the NCAA would follow the NFL and narrow them?

Or, if we want to make it more interesting, how about letting the hash mark position vary from field to field? Plenty of sports allow variation in the details of the field, like the differing wall distances in baseball.

In college and high school, having wider hashmarks has a pretty good impact on the play of the game- it’s another variable that has to be taken into account.

IIRC the rules, if the play ends with the ball between the hashmarks, it’s lined up where it was down. If it’s outside the hashmarks when the play ends, it’s put on the nearest hashmark. So there’s a variation from play to play where the ball will be in play. You may be out on the hashmarks or you may be dead-center. This means that your offense has to adjust to where the ball is, and so does the defense- if you’re on one or the other, the wide side of the field is larger and harder to cover for the defense, but the short side is a lot harder to run/pass into as well.

The pros OTOH, have much narrower hashmarks which minimize the issues of starting the play on either hashmark. This is just one of many rule changes in the pros that seem to be intended to ease the burden on the offense- another is the different clock rules w.r.t. run plays, etc…

I think if the hashmarks were moved out, you’d see it as one more consideration for the offense when choosing a play, but in general teams would play just like they do already. After all, college and high school teams don’t do a whole lot of that kind of thing, and their hashmarks are considerably wider than the pros are.

Is that really true, though? I would imagine having up to 40 extra feet to work with must change the play calling somewhat.

Play calling, sure. But it doesn’t really change the plays they have. In other words, nobody really has a set of plays specifically for running on the hashmarks.

What you might see is differences in the plays that are called in a certain situation- you might have an advantage running say… a screen pass to the wide side of the field if you have quick linemen and running backs, or it might actually be advantageous to run the ball to the short side if you have particularly powerful linemen. And you have more opportunity for misdirection- lining up 3 WR on the wide side says you might do something there, but you can still run to the short side.

Having narrow hashmarks takes all that away- both sides of the field are “wide” for the most part.

Either way, the plays themselves are not going to be different because of the width of the hashmarks, just maybe the choice of plays.

I can imagine a day when the ball is always placed directly center in the field for an offensive snap for each play. I imagine that would have the double effect of simplifying things and also giving the greatest advantage to the offense who has an equal amount of space on either side.

Will that improve the game or make it worse? I don’t know, but it would fit with what the NFL wants to do in making the game high-scoring and more dynamic.

If there’s ever a motivation for the NFL to balance out the heavy bias towards offense, this would be an interesting way to do it.

That was going to be my comment as well.

If cutting 40’ to 18.5 feet was a good thing (by league management’s definition of “good”), why not cut it again, or even just center the ball on each snap?

To be sure there’s a diminishing marginal return as you get closer to the center. They whacked the lateral variation roughly in half back in 1972 and got a big payoff. Whacking it in half again to ~10ft would probably produce a smaller but still noticeable payoff, especially in this analytics-mad era. Further reduction from 10ft to 0ft wouldn’t change squat; it’d be a rounding error in the stats.

Said another way, NFL has one last arrow in that quiver. Better shoot it wisely.

I think it would be cool if field goals had to be taken from wherever the ball was down (like rugby). So, if you only have a few seconds left, running out of bounds would make it much harder on the kicker, but may be your only option. If the play were really close to the edges, maybe go for a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal.

In a few (10?) years when kickers can reliably make field goals from their own 20 yard line, something will have to be done about that. Maybe the goal posts get narrower. Maybe FGs become worth 2 or even just 1 point.

Or maybe they’ll try your suggestion. I watch a lot of rugby and enjoy how where the tries are downed affects the point after kick attempt.

A rules-lawyer question I just had. it’s one of those things I knew for sure until you asked me. I hate it when that happens. :wink:

In NFL football, if an offensive runner crosses the plane of the goal line with the ball in possession, is the play dead right then, or must the player or ball be grounded to complete the play? IOW, if the ball is fumbled and recovered by the defense after the offense successfully carried it into the end zone, does the TD stand?

The relevance of this question is that in rugby, where the ball carrier crosses the goal line is irrelevant and play continues full bore until the player downs the ball in the end zone or a turnover or foul occurs. If NFL gained a bunch of similar in-the-end-zone play there’d be a tradeoff between trying to carry it in across the center versus trying to carry it across at a less crowded area along the goal line then veer towards the center before downing to improve the angle for the kicker.

The play ends at the moment that the ball crosses the plane of the goal line, while in possession of a player. It doesn’t matter if the ball carrier loses possession of the ball after that moment, or doesn’t touch the ground in the end zone; it’s still a touchdown.

One exception to this is if the ball is being thrown. The receiver must complete the act of catching the ball, which may involve surviving hitting the ground. But that’s not the case of someone in possession of the ball crossing the goal line. He doesn’t have possession until he completes the catch.

Otherwise as kenobi_65 said, as soon as any part of the ball crosses the goal line or hits the pylon while in the possession of a runner, the play is over and a touchdown is awarded.

This is true; when a pass is in the air, it’s not, strictly speaking, in possession of the offense, and the receiver has to establish possession – successfully catching the ball in-bounds – in order for it to be a touchdown. But, again, once he does so in the end zone, the play ends at that moment, and it doesn’t matter if he fumbles the ball after establishing possession with a successful catch.

But establishing possession with a successful catch may include surviving the fall to the ground, whether that’s in the end zone or out of it. I used may because I’m not up to speed on the most recent rule change of the definition of a catch.

Neither am I anymore; the rules on “what is a catch” have become stupidly complex over the past decade, and they keep trying to tweak the definition. Even if the receiver catches the ball while still on his feet (rather than on the ground or falling to the ground), it’s still now more complex than it needs to be.

But, regardless, once a successful catch has been made in the end zone, it’s a dead ball.

Nah, they’ve simplified it, despite what Chris Colinsworth would have you think. You just have to maintain possession and establish yourself as a runner. I can’t really think of any controversial “was that a catch” calls from this year.

An easy way to think of it is that you can’t ever fumble the ball in the opponent’s end zone. You can fumble into or through the end zone, but if you are actually in the end zone and have possession you score.

If, for example, you catch the ball in the end zone but it’s knocked out of your hands (by your own doing or another’s), either (A) you got a touchdown because you established possession before you lost it, or (B) it is incomplete. It can never be a fumble.

Of course you can fumble the ball in your own end zone (it happens all the time). If it’s fumbled out the back or side that’s a safety. If you recover it but are downed in the end zone, it’s also a safety. If the other team recovers it within the end zone it’s a touchdown. Fumbling in your own end zone is something you really don’t want to do. :smiley: