What is a touchback in football? Definition, meaning and explanation

What is a touchback in football? Definition, meaning and explanation

Sospeter Itolondo
January 16, 2023 at 1:27 PM

Football is massively gaining popularity worldwide; hence more and more people want to learn about the sport. It has some complicated terminologies that confuse even long-term fans. So what is a touchback in football? Read on to get more information on the play.

what a touchback is in a football game
James Pierre fails to prevent a touchback against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter of the game at Bank of America Stadium on December 18, 2022, in Charlotte. Photo: Eakin Howard
Source: Getty Images

The play has changed meaning recently, especially due to the rule changes between 2004 and 2011. So it is understandable if most people need a firm grasp of the idea. Read on to understand what a touchback is in a football game and how the incredible teams benefit from the play.

What does a touchback in football mean?

Perhaps one of the most controversial plays in football, the touchback has fans calling for the kickoff to be abolished. So, what is a touchback in NFL football? A touchback happens in two scenarios.

One of the scenarios is when a ball which has been kicked forward by one team, as a result of a punt or a kickoff, ends up in the endzone or behind the goal line. The goal line or end zone is usually behind the 20-yard line. A punt is when an opposing player drops the ball from his hand to kick it to the other team's side.

The other scenario is when a forward pass is intercepted, or the play is intercepted before the 20-yard line and the ball rolls to the opposing team's endzone. After the above scenarios, the ball is spotted at the 25-yard line for a touchback. After the rule changes, the 25-yard line was also moved from the 20-yard line, and no points were awarded for a touchback.

what is a touchback in football?
Jalen Richard kneels in the end zone for a touchback against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Oakland during the first quarter at RingCentral Coliseum on December 15, 2019. Photo: Jason O. Watson
Source: Getty Images

Before the rule changes, a touchback could also be called for when a receiver called for a fair catch when they had not yet caught the ball or when the receiver kneeled when the ball was caught. A player takes a knee, especially if they cannot reach the opponent's 20 yards before being tackled. Letting the ball bounce or fumbling it will also have the same effect, which has been confusing to most fans as it only happens sometimes.

What is considered a touchback in college football?

A touchback in college football is basically the same as in NFL football. However, a rule change was proposed in 2018 to increase the number of touchbacks to protect players from damage, as they consider the kickoff one of the most dangerous plays in football. In a statement, the NCAA said,

"The committee made the proposal to address player safety on the kickoff and to address tactics that attempt to pin the receiving team close to its goal line."

What happens when there is a touchback in football?

What happens when a football team gets a touchback? When a touchback happens, the opposing or the receiving team takes the ball and spots it to start the game. The ball is spotted at the 25-yard line in case it is from a kickoff or the 20-yard line for interceptions.

What does a touchback in football mean?
Devan Boykin #12 intercepts a pass for a touchback with 38 seconds remaining in their game at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 8, 2022, in Raleigh. Photo: Lance King
Source: Getty Images

How many points is a touchback in football?

The touchback has no points in football. It is, however, a chance for the receiving team to get points from starting play.

What is the difference between a touchback and a safety?

A touchback is basically the opposite of a safety. While both plays come when a player fumbles the ball at the endzone, safety results in the opposing team gaining two points. In both plays, one team loses possession of the football. A safety also only happens when the ball carrier loses it in his team's endzone.

A safety becomes a touchback if the team with the ball if the ball has not been in play outside of the endzone at some point. Hence a safety can happen in both the offence and the defence.

How many kickoffs are touchbacks?

There is no set number of touchbacks from kickoffs, and they solely depend from team to team. For example, in 2022, LA Chargers had the highest kickoff touchback percentage at 80.23%.

what is a touchback in NFL football
David Njoku is unable to recover a fumble out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on January 17, 2021, in Kansas City. Photo: Jamie Squire
Source: Getty Images

The question of what a touchback is in football has been in the minds of most fans. It has been confusing especially given the sudden rule changes on how and when it is administered. A touchback does not guarantee the receiving team points but gives them a chance to gain points. It is important to note that a touchback is not a safety even though it may be administered in similar circumstances.

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Sospeter Itolondo
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