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Contact rules changes for 2024

10th February 2024

The BAFA Rules Committee has announced the contact football rule changes that will be brought into play on 1st March (except for the remainder of the BUCS season). The BAFA changes also reflect changes made by IFAF and NCAA.

Field markings

This year begins the phasing in of 90-yard fields as the minimum length, which will be completed over 3 years.

For 2024, a 90-yard or 100-yard field is mandatory for NL Premier Division teams, extending to other adult NL teams in 2025 and BUCS teams in 2026. There are two exceptions:

  1. A team may apply to the competition authority or the BAFA Rules Committee for an exemption if its stadium does not have room for a 90-yard field but is otherwise of good standard.
  2. The referee may allow a game to proceed if the reason for the breach is either (a) that a team has had to move venue at short notice or (b) due to an error in field marking that cannot be rectified before the scheduled kickoff time.

Otherwise, if the field is not of the minimum length and can’t be fixed, then the game will not take place. The minimum remains at 80-yards for divisions where the new rule has not yet been introduced.

We have more detailed advice on all aspects of field markings.


In 2022, the penalty for a team wearing jerseys with illegal numbers increased. However, we agreed to suspend implementation for that season in response to representations from one club. That suspension was then extended to 2023. It will not be extended further on the basis that the offending club has had 2 years now to replace its jerseys.

The two issues with jersey numbering tend to be that (i) the colour of the numbers does not sufficiently contrast with the colour of the jersey (e.g. black numbers on a dark blue background); and (ii) that the numbers on the jersey are not big enough (minimum 8 inches high on the front and 10 inches on the back). These have always been the rules – it is only the penalty that is changing to reflect the importance of ensuring that players’ numbers are clearly visible on video and to spectators.

The penalty now is that the offending team will be penalised 15 yards after the opening kickoff of each half, and will be charged a timeout (or a delay of game penalty if they are all used up) at the start of each quarter.

We have more detailed advice on all aspects of uniform.

In-game uniform or equipment problems

For the last few seasons, when officials notice players wearing illegal equipment or not wearing mandatory equipment (e.g. missing mouthpieces or chinstraps, but also knee pads and similar equipment), they send the player to the sideline to get the problem fixed. In a few cases, players have not responded to the officials’ instructions.

From this season, if a player does not immediately respond when instructed by an official, then a timeout will be charged to their team. We define “immediately” as after having been told twice in the same dead-ball period. Again, a delay of game penalty is enforced if the team has no timeouts remaining.

Medical facilities

The medical requirements changes we announced in 2022 take a further step up this year.

From this season, teams at all levels (including BUCS, U19 and U16) must each have their own first aider, as well as the mandatory game medical cover. Since most teams have at least one first-aid trained coach, this should be easy to achieve, though teams will need to ensure that they have sufficient people trained to cope with absences.

From this season, Premier Division, Division 1 and BUCS Premier games will need to have an “immediate care practitioner” available – many games already have a medic with this slightly higher qualification. That will be extended to all adult football (including BUCS) in 2025.

We are grateful to the advice provided by a working group of the BAFA Sport Science and Medical Committee for prompting these changes.

Other changes

  • The tackle box and the free blocking zone are now centred on the snapper instead of the middle lineman of the formation. 95% of the time the snapper is the middle lineman so nobody will notice a difference, but where there is an unbalanced line there may be an effect. These definitions are used in rules relating to intentional grounding, blocking below the waist, roughing the kicker, blocking in the back and others.
  • Two more categories of player are defined as defenceless and thus protected by targeting rules. The new categories are long snappers and players attempting to catch or recover a fumble.
  • A team is responsible for monitoring any of its players who remain in or enter the playing enclosure during the halftime intermission.
  • Only the 2nd and 4th quarters will be extended if a penalty occurs during the down in which time expires. At the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters, the teams will change ends after the penalty is enforced.
  • If a game has a running clock (because the score margin was 35 or more points), the running clock session will carry on until the trailing team reduces the margin to 24 or fewer points. This addresses the situation where, once a running clock session has started, the trailing team scores against the run of play but they do not sustain their fightback.
  • A team is no longer able to take consecutive timeouts during the same dead-ball period.
  • There has been a technical change to the inadvertent whistle rule during kicks. The receiving team may be awarded the ball only if the spot where the kick ends is known.
  • There have been minor changes to the 9-a-side7-a-side and 5-a-side rules. We have also confirmed the IFAF flag football rules that were published last year.

Sideline replay

For several years, we’ve allowed a video judge to assist the officials on the field by reviewing replays of the action. There was also a provision (that was never to our knowledge used) that the officials could use replays on a big screen. That has now been extended to cover situations where replay can be provided on a screen at the side of the field, under certain circumstances. This reflects our willingness to consider the use of technology to help the officials, but only where the technology is of sufficiently high quality and outside the influence of either team. If you are considering providing this at your games, please contact the Chair of the Rules Committee for advice.

BAFA regulations changes

A few amendments to the general BAFA regulations have been made, but the most significant is increased penalties for abusing officials. Participants who are disqualified or guilty of some other misconduct will have their fines and suspensions doubled if the offence involves misconduct directed at a game official. This is our response to initiatives in other sports to reduce abuse of officials.

All fines and appeal fees have been increased slightly. The fine for a first offence goes up from £20 to £25 if paid within 14 days. This is the first such increase since 2008.


Dr Jim Briggs, Chair of both the BAFA Rules Committee and the IFAF Rules Committee said, “Each year we make improvements to the rules to make the game safer and to encourage better sportsmanship. In particular, we are looking to gently raise standards of important facilities. We are always striving to bring greater clarity to players, coaches and officials about what is safe and fair.”

There are a number of other minor rule changes. The full list is available here in PDF format. Note that the rulebook on the BAFA rules website has been updated with these changes.

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