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USFL Rules School: What rules differ from the NFL?

A summary of rules in the USFL that differ from the NFL



Here are a list of the rules the USFL is employing that are different than the NFL rules set.

Game timing

  • Halftime is 10 minutes in length
  • Play clock will use 35 seconds, 25 seconds after a stoppage
  • Timing rules for a runner out of bounds apply after the 2-minute warning
  • The clock stops on first downs inside the 2-minute warning until the ball is made ready for play

Game administration


  • Kickoffs are made from the 25-yard line
  • 5 kickoff players on either side of the kicker, all players must have at least 1 foot within 5 yards of the kicking team’s restraining line
  • The receiving team “setup zone” is 10 yards from the receiver’s restraining line (10-20 yards from the ball), and 8-9 players must be in the setup zone
  • Any kick that goes more than 20 yards cannot be recovered for possession by the kicking team.

Onside scrimmage alternative

  • The kicking team may use the onside scrimmage alternative (used in the NFL’s Pro Bowl) instead of an onside kick after a score (not to start the half)
  • The scrimmage play will be equivalent to a 4th and 12 play from the 33 (or the 23 after a safety)
  • The kicking team may not revert to a conventional kickoff, even if there is a penalty on the first attempt. (Kicking team can change their mind before the ready-for-play signal of the first attempt)
  • No kicks are allowed on an onside scrimmage play.
  • All standard penalty enforcements apply. For instance, an automatic first down is a successful onside possession, and any penalty enforcement from the previous spot changes the distance required. Dead-ball fouls after an unsuccessful attempt (without live-ball fouls) do not change the fact that the attempt failed, just like any 4th down play.

Forward passes

  • The offense may make 2 forward passes behind the line of scrimmage per down
  • Offensive pass interference and ineligible lineman downfield apply on passes that are completed beyond the neutral zone. These rules apply to the second legal forward pass as well.
  • Defensive pass interference is a spot foul, maximum 15 yards (no half distance unless the ball was snapped at the 1)
  • Intentional defensive pass interference can be called only by the replay official, which is a spot foul (or on the 1-yard line if in the end zone)


  • Touchdowns can be followed by a 1-, 2-, or 3-point conversion.
  • If the defense returns a conversion to the offense’s end zone, it is always 2 points
  • Teams may not change the conversion option once the ball is ready for play, regardless of timeouts or penalties.


  • All replays are conduced at the Fox Sports command center in Los Angeles by Mike Pereira
  • Coaches are permitted one challenge per game
  • Replay can remove a personal foul, unnecessary roughness, or unsportsmanlike conduct called on the field
  • Defensive pass interference is a booth review
  • Scores and potential scores are booth reviews


Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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