Why does CFL have only three downs? Canadian Football League rules explained

Saskatchewan Roughriders v Toronto Argonauts
Why does CFL have only three downs? Canadian Football League rules explained

The 2024 edition of the CFL season begins Thursday. The season's opening game will see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers take on the Montreal Alouettes.

However, fans who are used to watching the NFL might find some differences in the rules around the Canadian pro league, especially the three downs to get 10 yards in the CFL. Here, we break down one of the major rule dissimilarities from the two leagues.

A look at the reasons behind CFL's three downs rule

Ottawa Redblacks v Toronto Argonauts
Ottawa Redblacks v Toronto Argonauts

When American football started blooming in the late 19th century, the rules stated that an offensive team must have three downs to gain 10 yards in possession. In 1912, the USA pro football leagues increased the limit to four downs to score 10 yards which is seen today in the NFL. However, the CFL simply continued to follow the original rules and regulations of the sport when it was invented.

With three downs, the game is fast-paced and more impactful. The team with possession is under added pressure to gain yardage leading to more aggressive plays. The increased intensity creates more excitement for fans and viewers alike.

The CFL allows each team to field 12 players during a play, giving more options for a quarterback to pick out a pass. Notably, fields in the Canadian pro league are also wider and longer than fields in the NFL, allowing players more space to run into and utilize.

Moreover, the three-down rule allows teams to focus more on efficient passing and strategizing, rather than adding more burden on rushers. It also adds an element of risk for offensive teams to get the job done quicker.

To sum it up, the premiere Canadian football league has its unique set of rules keeping it different from the NFL. The distinction is also a part of the culture in the country, which further plays a role in promoting the league’s unique character.

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