Aussie Rules vs. NFL: How do they compare?

There is one thing you can virtually guarantee about an Australian and an American – they both love to watch “footy” or  football in North American vernacular. Their interpretation of the game may differ however. Aussie Rules (AFL) football is definitely what fans love ‘Down Under’. It’s very much a contact sport, just like American football, which is why the the two sports are compared so often.

There are roughly 26,000 Aussie rules clubs active across Australia, making it not only one of the nation’s leading professional sports but also one of the biggest among amateur players too. We’re not finished yet with the facts and figures either, as this article delves somewhat deeper into the comparisons between Aussie rules and the NFL, which has been at the heart of American popular culture since 1920.

How do pitch/field sizes compare?

There’s one significant difference between an Aussie rules pitch and an American football field – its shape. In Aussie rules, teams play on an oval-shaped pitch that’s between 135-185 meters long and 110-155 meters wide. Compare that with the average American football field which measures 91.44 meters (100 yards) in length and 48.8 meters (53.3 yards)  in width, and it’s clear to see that Aussie rules has a substantially bigger playing surface – roughly twice the size in fact.

How many players are involved?

Unsurprisingly, given that Aussie rules pitches are twice the size of NFL fields, a team competing in the AFL will have 18 players on the field at any time. That’s compared with just 11 players per team on the field during an NFL game. Aussie rules teams are permitted to make three substitutions during the course of an entire game. This is one of the biggest differences with NFL as the latter permits unlimited substitutions which can be somewhat strange for sports fans that are used to a restricted number.

What are their scoring systems like?

Photo by Adriano Rotolo, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In Aussie rules, players can score simply by kicking the ball between the four goal posts. Players that manage to kick the ball between the outer posts earn one point for their team, while those that can kick the ball between the inner posts score six points for their team. The latter is known as a goal and the former is known as a behind.

Scoring in the NFL is somewhat different and is more akin to rugby or rugby league. If a team can get the ball to their opponent’s end zone it is called a touchdown and is worth six points. The team with the touchdown then have a chance to claim an extra point by kicking the ball successfully between the posts, rather like a conversion in rugby.

How do the AFL and NFL compare?

The AFL consists of 18 teams situated in five of the six states located down under. The AFL’s regular season is made up of a 23-round campaign where teams play each other home and away. The team with the best record after this campaign is awarded the minor premiership. The top eight in the league qualify for the finals series which is eventually whittled down to two in the AFL Grand Final. The 2019 AFL season kicks off in earnest soon and Geelong and Collingwood appear to be the likely contenders to appear in the next Grand Final.

By contrast, the NFL consists of 32 teams representing different cities and states throughout the United States. These teams are divided equally into two divisions, known as the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. Each Conference is also split into regional divisions. The winners of each division, along with two wild card teams from each conference, advance to the NFL playoffs. This consists of one-off matches which culminate in the Super Bowl, played between the champions of the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference.

While the NFL has long been one of the most popular sports in the U.S. and beyond, both among fans and on a commercial level, Aussie rules isn’t that far behind. In fact, the AFL is the fourth biggest domestic professional sporting league on the planet, based on average attendances. It’s therefore safe to say that both the AFL and NFL are hugely exciting in their own right. They’re never likely to compete with one another, which is great for the future of both sporting codes.

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