As the air chills and leaves begin to fade into golden, orange and vibrant red, one of the nation’s most beloved games is returning. And this year, it is set to return with fans in the stands. At local high schools and colleges and at NFL stadiums across the nation, players will send the football spinning through the goal posts aka uprights to add three points or one more following a touchdown to their team’s score.
Whether you find yourself at Lane Stadium or any of the nine New River Valley high schools or on the road to catch an NFL game this fall, the giant U-shaped structures bookending the field will likely play an integral role in the game. In fact, field goal posts have been a hot topic in the football world for decades. They hold a complicated history and have undergone shifting regulations.
The goal post structure is not one-size-fits-all. It is made up of a post at its base (a “gooseneck”), a horizontal crossbar 10 feet high attached to the base and vertical uprights that extend 20 or 30 feet up into the air on either end. The width of the goal posts varies across different leagues: NFL and NCAA field goal posts are 18 feet 6 inches wide. High school posts are slightly wider at 23 feet 4 inches. The height regulations of the goal posts have been adjusted, and different leagues specify different height regulations: 20 feet in high school and 30 feet in college. After one player kicked the ball to the skies above the uprights, the NFL extended its goal posts even higher. In 2014, the NFL raised the height of its goal posts to 35 feet.
And the goal post positions on the field has been varied. In the early days of American football, the goal post sat on the goal line. But as the game transpired, the posts were an obstacle and posed a safety risk while players were scoring. In the late 1920s, the NCAA and NFL moved the field goal posts to the back of the end zone. Then, after moving to the goal line once more a few years later, American football eventually moved the goal posts again to the back of the end zone—where they’ve been planted since 1974. In Canadian football, however, the goal posts are still on the goal line.
Along the way, the goal posts’ golden color (or sometimes white) was adopted as the standard. Most goal posts are supported by a single post at the base, such as Lane Stadium’s field goal posts. But a few goal posts in the nation are supported with a base on either side, such as Louisiana State University or Florida State University. It once was an impromptu sport to tear down the goal posts after a game, win or lose. College students would storm the end zone and climb the posts until their collective weight collapsed the uprights. This was easier back in the day when they were made with wood. Most now are solid and crafted out of heavy gauge steel, aluminum or some sturdy metal combination. Posts are at least 2 3/8 inches in diameter with the support post often 5 inches thick.
Field goals score three points and typically happen on a fourth down or when there is only enough time remaining for one play during the first half or at the end of the game. Following a touchdown, an extra point is gained with a successful kick through the uprights. For the coveted point(s), the ball must pass over the 10-foot high crossbar between the uprights. If it passes through the goal posts, hitting any part of the posts on its journey, it counts. Here’s another question: If the ball hits the upright and falls back on the field of play, is it a live ball? The answer is no.
Every detail of the fall sport—down to the inches of the uprights—is carefully regulated. On Friday nights and weekends across the New River Valley, fans will rep their team’s colors and hold their breath while the ball soars – ideally — through the goal posts for a coveted 3 points or that extra point added to a 6-point touchdown. Then the goal posts are guarded against wild fans seeking the thrill of climbing up and bringing them down. The only thing to bring down, figuratively, is the opponent. Go Hokies!
Text by Emma Beaver