What Are the Differences Between Canadian Football and American Football?

Football in Canada

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American football and Canadian football may look identical at first glance to the casual observer. However, a closer look reveals that despite them sharing many of the same features, there are some important differences between these two styles of gridiron.

Number of Players

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two sports is the number of players on the field. In Canadian football, there are twelve players on the field for each team whilst American football teams have just eleven on each side.


In the CFL (Canadian Football League), teams have one timeout per half whereas in the NFL (National Football League) each team has three. Warnings are different too with players receiving a two-minute warning and a three-minute warning in the NFL and CFL, respectively.


To advance the ball ten-yards, teams in American football are allowed four downs, whereas in Canadian football, they are allowed just three.


Scoring in both games is almost identical with a safety being worth two points, a field goal three, a touchdown scoring six points and a conversion run being worth two points. A kicked extra point is worth one point in both forms of the game.

However, the exception is the rouge or single point, which is only in Canadian football. This single point is awarded when the kicking team punts the football or misses a field goal and the receiving team catches it and decides not to run the ball out of their own end zone.


The NFL regular season runs from September to early January with the Super Bowl being played on the first Sunday of February. In the CFL, the season begins in July and ends in November with their version of the Super Bowl – the Grey Cup – being played on the last Sunday in November.

The number of games in a regular season are different too with NFL teams playing 16 regular games per season and teams in the CFL playing 18 regular season games.

Field Goal Posts

In the Canadian Football League, the field goal posts are at the front of the end zone. In the NFL, the posts are at the back of the end zone.

Field Size

The length of an NFL pitch is 120-yards whereas a CFL pitch is 150-yards. Canadian pitches are wider too at 65 yards whereas in the NFL pitches are just over 53 yards wide.

Punt Returns and Fair Catches

In the Canadian Football League, there is no fair-catch rule and the punting team must give the punt returner about five-yards space to allow them to either catch the ball in the air or after it bounces or to pick it up and run after it has stopped bouncing.

In the NFL, there is a fair catch rule and the punt returner can choose to wave their hand to signal a fair catch which means opposition players cannot tackle or make contact with them. However, the returner must not advance the football.


The American version of gridiron is much more commercial and this is reflected in players salaries. A survey by Sportingintelligence.com and ESPN revealed that the average annual salary for a Canadian football player was between $94k and $115k, whereas NFL players are compensated much more, with salaries stretching into the tens of millions of pounds for the best players.