Tuesday, 28 May 2024

The Difference Between Professional and College Football

Professional football and college football may seem similar on the surface, but there are important distinctions between these two codes of gridiron. Let’s explore these differences in more detail to gain a better understanding of each game.

Professional/Amateur Status

One of the key contrasts between professional and college football is the status of the players. In the NFL, the players are professionals, while in the NCAA, they are considered amateurs. The NCAA emphasizes the importance of maintaining amateurism to preserve an academic environment where education takes precedence.

While the NCAA’s commitment to amateurism has faced scrutiny in recent years, a US Court of Appeals ruling in September 2015 affirmed the status quo. This ruling ensures that college athletes receive benefits that are proportional to the cost of attending college. College fees, travel expenses, and living costs can be covered by stipends, but athletes cannot receive benefits exceeding these limits.

Pass Reception

A notable difference between college football and the NFL lies in how pass reception is determined. In the NFL, a receiver must catch the ball and have both feet in-bounds for it to be considered a completed pass. In contrast, college football only requires one foot to be down for a reception to count. However, many college players still strive to get both feet down, as they aspire to pursue careers in the NFL.

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Two-Point Conversions

When it comes to two-point conversions, the starting position on the field differs between the professional and college versions of the game. In the NFL, the two-point conversion begins on the two-yard line, while in college football, it starts on the three-yard line, further away from the goal line.

Two-Minute Warning

The NFL has a two-minute warning, which occurs when there are two minutes remaining in each half. This automatic time-out allows teams to regroup and adjust their strategies if necessary. In contrast, college football does not have a two-minute warning.

Down by Contact

Another significant difference between the NFL and NCAA football is the rule regarding being down by contact. In the NFL, a player must be forced down or tackled by an opponent for a play to be considered over. This means that if a player falls without being touched, they can get back up and continue the play. However, in college football, the play is considered over as soon as any part of the body, other than the hands or feet, touches the ground, regardless of whether there was contact from the opposition.

Defensive Holding

Both NCAA and NFL games have rules against holding, as it compromises fair play and can lead to increased injury risks. In the NFL, holding results in a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down. In college football, the penalty is ten yards, and the down must be repeated.

The Game Clock

The game clock operates differently in the NCAA and NFL, albeit subtly. In the NFL, after a first down, the clock continues to run unless there is a timeout or the player goes out of bounds. However, in college football, the game clock stops after a first down. This difference gives the losing team in college football more time to stage a comeback.

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Overtime rules also vary between college football and professional football. In the NFL, there is a sudden-death quarter, and a coin toss determines which team starts on offense. The first team to score wins, but if neither team scores, the game ends in a tie. However, in playoff games, the match continues until a winner is determined.

In college football, overtime rules are slightly fairer. Each team gets a possession from the opponent’s 25-yard line, with the team in the lead after both possessions declared the winner. If the game remains tied after these possessions, it continues until there is a clear winner, unlike in the NFL, where a tie can occur.


  • Q: What is the main difference between professional and college football?

    • A: The main difference lies in the status of the players. Professional football players are considered professionals, while college football players are amateurs.
  • Q: How does pass reception differ between college football and the NFL?

    • A: In the NFL, a receiver must have both feet in-bounds to complete a catch, while college football only requires one foot in-bounds.
  • Q: What are the overtime rules in college football?

    • A: In college football, each team receives a possession from the opponent’s 25-yard line. The team leading after both possessions is declared the winner, and if it remains tied, the game continues until there is a winner.


Understanding the differences between professional and college football can enhance our appreciation for both games. Whether it’s the player status, pass reception rules, two-point conversions, or overtime regulations, these distinctions contribute to the unique experience that each code of football offers.

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Images: Include relevant images to illustrate each section, enhancing the reader’s understanding and engagement.