The Rules of Sunday Football

The rules™ are a rough amalgamation, starting from Edmonton Flag Football rules and their basis in CFL rules, adapted for touch, the vagaries of pick-up football, our participants, and their, um, tendencies.

Also, I realized recently by fluke, our flag football rules likely derive from the rules for Six Man Football since "back in the day" (before even Paul played flag, but when our brother-older-than-he played) the then-Sherwood Park Flag Football League was 6 man and not 7 like it became and like the EFFA is now.

Principles of Sunday Football

Essentially a touch form of flag rules, but with kickoffs after scoring, and no running plays. Everybody throws and the teams are flexible.

Ball, Equipment, Field


The ball we use is any variation on a standard sized football. Some are rubberized, mostly we use leather (pro-style) or balls from pro leagues (e.g. XFL, Arena).

Basically anything but Nerf™ or pure rubber.


Other than the cones to mark the field, and possibly the QB-Tee™ timer (see "Timing" below), the only equipment used is cleated footwear. Other than that, we're rugby style: no pads, no shin guards, nothing. Very manly, except that it's touch football.


Based off of Flag Football, the prototypical field is 4x20 yard zones, with 2x10 yard end-zones, 1 on either end. The width is 40-ish yards, wider if there are lots of people, maybe narrower if it's 3-on-2 or 3-on-3.


A typical field looks like this, if set up in a clear, un-marked area:

The red dots represent the cones/pylons marking the zones and boundaries. Shoes or other equipment can be used instead, and often were. Note that the goal lines have double cones/pylons.


When setting up on a field that already has markings for another sport, try to use those existing lines to mark boundaries, zones, etc. where possible, even if it means futzing with the sizes somewhat.

For example, setting up on a soccer field:

  • Align the centre line with the existing soccer centre lines
  • Use the top of the 18yd box as the goal line, and the top of the crease (6yd box) as the end-line. This results in a 12yd end zone, but with convenient lines to mark them
  • Split the distance between half and the 18yd box into 2 zones. Depending on how the field is marked, this usually results in 16-18yd zones.

This looks like:

If you don't need the full width, try to use the edge of the 18yd or 6yd boxes as the sideline, again to take advantage of the existing lines.

Another example is when we play on the Field-Turf field behind Lister Hall. If we have the room to run North-South, use the yellow flag football markings already there (should be 2 parallel fields). However, those zones are only 15yds, so you may want to consider going 3 downs per zone instead of 4 (see "Downs" under "The Game").

Alternatively, and more commonly, we play across the field, between the fence and the small building, leaving a safety buffer beyond each end-line. This results in only enough for 3x20 yd zones, plus the end zones.

The Game

Starting the game

After milling about, waiting for someone to set up the cones, and then lazily throwing a football around and calling it a warm-up, eventually the group splits in 2 like an amoeba. Thus are created the 2 teams which will battle for glory on this day.

An attempt is made to balance the skills of the players present to make the teams even. e.g. Pete plays opposite of Bob, Paul plays opposite Mike, Mark plays opposite Blair, etc.

If there an odd number of players, one player will be required to "float" from side to side. It does not need to be the same player all the time.


Kickoffs are done like punts. They are not kicked from the ground or a tee.

Kickoff from the 20yd line, unless you're playing on a short field (3 zones intead of 4) in which case either kick off from the 10yd line or goal line. If the teams are uneven size, kicking team has the extra player.

If it's 3-on-2 or 3-on-3, don't bother with the kick off, just start on your own 20yd line.

See "Penalties" for illegal kick off rules.

There is no blocking on the run back. The receiving team is allowed to "pitch" the ball between players on the run back. A pitch is considered legal if the point where the ball is caught is behind the point from which it is thrown initially. This is NOT the same as being behind the player who pitched it, who may have continued to move forward.

A player who is tagged with 2 hands is marked down at that spot. See "Tagging" in "Sequence of play".

Sequence of play

Each play consists of:

  • the offensive and defensive teams (usually) huddle to call their plays
  • offense puts the ball in play
  • the play is executed
  • the ball is positioned at the (possibly new) line of scrimmage

Putting the ball in play

Usually no centre or snap, just the QB starting with the ball on the timer stand (if used) or on the ground. QB snaps the ball while making an audible call (hut, go, ball, etc.) simultaneously. If using the timer, make sure the ball is properly set in the depression so that it holds down the timer switch. NO NEED TO POINT THE BALL INTO IT, the depressions will work with the ball resting flat in them.


Since we don't want to deal with blocking and a full out rush in general, the plays are instead limited to a given time limit before which the quarterback must throw the ball.

If the teams are of equal size, the defensive team can rush the quarterback after the time limit and attempt to sack him. The quarterback cannot run across the line of scrimmage, but must throw the ball or be sacked. However, there is no time limit beyond this, the quarterback can take as long as he remains unsacked. For manual counting, this is "5 steamboats" and must be counted out loud by the defensive team. When using the QB-Tee, this limit is the start of the beep when the timer is set to 3 seconds.

If the teams are of unequal size, the defense, always being the smaller team, does not normally rush (see "Blitzing"). Thus, the quarterback is given a time limit before which the ball must be out of their hand on the way to a receiver. For manual counting, this is "6 steamboats" and must be counted out loud by the defense. When using the QB-Tee, this is the end of the beep when the timer is set for 3 seconds.


A throw is considered complete if the receiver:

  • has control of the ball (i.e. not juggling it, it's not slipping out of their hands, etc.), and
  • the player has at least one foot (or other point of contact) in bounds, and
  • no other part of their body touching the ground out of bounds.


There is only 2 types of contact allowable in this game:

  • an offensive player blocking a rushing defender
  • a defender impeding a receiver as he leaves the line.

All contact must be initiated with the hands only, and only between the waist and shoulders. Contact can occur behind the line of scrimmage and up to 1 yd beyond the line of scrimmage.


A player is down if they are touched by two "hands" (see below) of a defender in one motion (i.e. part of one action), nearly simultaneously. Touches by 1 hand from 2 different players do not count, nor do 2 single touches that are part of different actions. e.g. Player A catches the ball, player B touches him with one hand, they run another couple of steps and player B touches A with one hand again: Player A is not down.

Two "hands" may be any two different points of contact, like feet, torso, etc., but not by kicking or body checking the player. What this means is that contact where both players, for example, go for the ball and their bodies are in contact at shoulders and feet, the player catching the ball is considered down.

A player is also considered down if they touch the ground with a part of their body other than their feet. i.e. knee, hand, shoulder, etc. Fumbled balls are dead immediately upon contacting the ground as well, but there is no change of possession.

Taking a Knee

A player with an unobstructed path to the endzone and who is clearly beyond all of the defenders and uncatchable (i.e. not likely to be caught because the defence is not chasing or because the ball carrier is too fast) may elect to take a knee or step out of bounds intentionally. That player's team will start the next play from that position as if the player had been tagged there.

2011/02/24: The following section is deprecated after testing and consideration and whinging that was ultimately correct. It's a lame rule, we won't do this any more. Kept for historical purposes so we don't repeat our errors.

Where to Spot the Ball:

Regardless of where the player chooses to stop or go out, the ball will be marked at the furthest point in that zone from the target endzone, but ahead of where he passed the last defender or where he gained possession. Some examples are in order:

  1. If a player steps out or takes a knee anywhere in the "red zone" (the last zone before the target endzone), the ball will be spotted on the 19 yard line.
  2. Even if a player takes a knee on their own 10 yard line (perhaps while returning an interception from his own endzone), if he is beyond all the defenders and "uncatchable", then the ball would be spotted on their own 1 yard line.
  3. Player "A" (let's call him Ryan) catches a pass at the 50 yard spot (30 yards from opponents goal) and he's in behind all the defenders already, so he takes a knee before exiting this zone, either immediately or at the 59/21 yard spot. Instead of marking the ball at the 41 (39), it would be marked at the 50/30 yard spot.


A touchback occurs if:

  • A team gains possession of the football in their own end zone and is then tagged or downed, or
  • The ball is kicked out of bounds through the end zone.

After a touchback, the ball is spotted half-way through the first zone.

Safety touch

A safety touch occurs if a player with the football outside of their end zone moves into the end zone and then is downed. The result is that the opposing team gets the ball as the centre line.


In an even sided game, the quarterback is sacked when he is tagged by the rushing player if the ball has not left his hand. The new line of scrimmage is set at the point the ball was when the QB was sacked.

In an uneven sided game, if the ball has not left the QB's hand by the time the timer beep has finished, the QB is considered sacked at the position where they are standing.


In an uneven sided game only, the defence may elect to rush the quarterback immediately after the ball is snapped in an attempt to sack him by tagging. Once the defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage, the timer is ignored for the rest of play, even if the defensive player returns to the other side of the line of scrimmage.

The defensive team may send as many players on a blitz as they see fit.

This is never allowed in an even sided game.


A team has 4 attempts (or "downs") in which to advance the ball into the next marked zone of the field by passing it to their own players. This "next" zone is established as the first line ahead of the ball position when the team takes possession. If, due to sacks or penalties, the offensive team moves back across another zone line, they still need to advance the ball to the original "next" zone to get a first down.

If smaller zones are being used (e.g. 15yd), the number of downs may be reduced to 3.

If the team does not advance the ball to the next zone in the required number of downs, the possession of the ball changes to the defensive team at the last point where the offence had advanced the ball. i.e. if the offence's last play was an incomplete pass, the defence takes over at the line of scrimmage. If the last offensive play was a completed pass, the defence takes over where the tag happened.

When the ball is turned over on downs, if the teams are unequal sizes, select a player from the offensive side to switch to the defensive team for their upcoming offensive series.

Now the formerly defensive team becomes offence and selects the next QB in order of rotation to lead them to the promised land.

If the offensive team is within 1 zone of their own goal line when they turn the ball over on downs, the ball starts at the edge of the zone.


The only way to score is touchdowns. Advance the ball into the end zone. Like the pros, this means ball in control of an offensive player, and the ball is past the end zone line and the player has at least one foot (or other point of contact) in bounds.

Ending the game

At some point one of the following sets in:

  • fatigue
  • boredom
  • scheduling conflicts
  • malaise
  • hypothermia
  • heat stroke

At this point it is usual to call "2 more" and, upon acknowledgment from the opposition, the game is now set to finish once 2 additional scores are made. Sometimes "1 more" is called if things are running late.

If this drags on in an offensive quagmire, the game eventually gets called after 1 or 2 more possessions instead.


Most penalties are similar to flag and CFL. For some of the wussier ones, the play is simply restarted (e.g. defence shouts to draw offensive players offside). Players mostly call their own fouls, either committed against them or committed by them. This allows a little discretion on the part of the fouled player. e.g. Jeff & Dustin usually let a lot of downfield contact go, pushing off, early contact, etc.

Because of our unique timing for the rush, offside in an even sided game is called when the rusher crosses the line of scrimmage before the beep starts. Offside (Offense or defense) is 5yds back or forward.

Most fouls (like illegal contact on a receiver, illegal downfield contact/"pick") result in play over. Flagrant fouls (not necessarily violent, but obvious and ridiculous) tend to be called at the point of infraction (like pass interference) or 10 yds forward/backward (for defensive/offensive holding).

A kick which lands out of bounds without bouncing at least once first* is considered illegal and must be re-kicked from a point 5yds farther back than the previous attempt. *rule changed Summer 2007.

For some good clarification on pass interference and what constitutes picks and illegal contact, see the CFL rules page.