In gridiron football, the safety (American football) or safety touch (Canadian football) is a scoring play that results in two points being awarded to the scoring team. Safeties can be scored in a number of ways, such as when a ball carrier is tackled in his own end zone or when a foul is committed by the offense in their own end zone. After a safety is scored in American football, the ball is kicked off to the team that scored the safety from the 20-yard line; in Canadian football, the scoring team also has the options of taking control of the ball at their own 35-yard line or kicking off the ball, also at their own 35-yard line. The ability of the scoring team to receive the ball through a kickoff differs from the touchdown and field goal, which require the scoring team to kick the ball off to the scored upon team. Despite being of relatively low point value, safeties can have a significant impact on the result of games, and Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats estimated that safeties have a greater abstract value than field goals, despite being worth a point less, due to the field position and reclaimed possession gained off the safety kick.
Safeties are the least common method of scoring in American football but are not rare occurrences - since 1932, a safety has occurred once every 14.31 games in the National Football League (NFL), or about once a week under current scheduling rules. A much rarer occurrence is the one-point safety, which can be scored by the offense on an extra point or two-point conversion attempt; those have occurred at least twice in NCAA Division I football since 1996, most recently at the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. No conversion safeties have occurred since at least 1940 in the NFL. A conversion safety by the defense is also possible, though highly unlikely; although this has never occurred, it is the only possible way a team could finish with a single point in an American football game.[A]
In Canadian football, a safety touch is scored when any of the following conditions occur:
After a safety is scored, the ball is put into play by a free kick. The team that was scored upon must kick the ball from their own 20-yard line and can punt, drop kick, or place kick the ball. In professional play, a kicking tee cannot be used - however, a tee can be used in high school or college football. Once the ball has been kicked, it can be caught and advanced by any member of the receiving team, and it can be recovered by the kicking team if the ball travels at least 10 yards or a player of the receiving team touches the ball.
After scoring a safety touch, the scoring team has the option of taking control of the ball and beginning play from their own 35-yard line, kicking the ball off from their 35-yard line, or accepting a kickoff from the 25-yard line of the team that conceded the score. If a kickoff is chosen it must be a place kick, and the ball can be held, placed on the ground, or placed on a tee prior to the kick. As in American football, the ball must go at least ten yards before it can be recovered by the kicking team.
In American football, intentionally conceded safeties are an uncommon strategy. Teams have utilized elective safeties to gain field position for a punt when pinned deep in their own territory and, when ahead near the end of a game, to run down the clock so as to deny the other team a chance to force a turnover or return a punt. Teams have also taken intentional safeties by kicking a loose ball out the back of their end zone, with the intent of preventing the defense from scoring a touchdown.
Elective safeties are more common in Canadian football, where they can result in better field position than a punt. The 2010 Edmonton Eskimos surrendered a Canadian Football League (CFL)-record 14 safeties, a factor that led CFL reporter Jim Mullin to suggest increasing the value of the safety touch from two to three points as a deterrent.
In American football, if a team attempting an extra point or two-point conversion (officially known in the rulebooks as a try) scores what would normally be a safety, that attempting team is awarded one point. This is commonly known as a conversion safety or one-point safety. There are at least two known occurrences of the conversion safety in Division I college football - a November 26, 2004, game in which Texas scored against Texas A&M, and the 2013 Fiesta Bowl in which Oregon scored against Kansas State. In both games, the point-after-touchdown kick was blocked and recovered by the defense, which then fumbled or threw the ball back into its own end zone. There are also at least two known NCAA Division III occurrences, the first being on November 11, 2000, against St. Thomas-Minnesota and Hamline University, and the most recent against Bluffton University and Franklin College (Indiana) which took place on November 9, 2013. No conversion safeties have been scored in the NFL since 1940, although it is now slightly more likely after the rule change in 2015 which allowed the defense to take possession and score on a conversion attempt. Before 2015, the only scenario in which a one-point safety could have been scored in the NFL would have involved the defense kicking or batting a loose ball out the back of its own end zone without taking possession of the ball.
A conversion safety can also be scored by the defense, though this has never occurred. To accomplish this, the team attempting the try would need to somehow be forced 98 yards back to their own end zone; in theory, such a scenario might (in college or the NFL) involve a turnover on a two-point conversion attempt, followed by a defensive player fumbling while en route to the attempting team's end zone, with the attempting team finally recovering the ball and downing it in their own end zone. While such a conversion safety has never been scored by the defense, it is the only possible way under current rules in which a team could finish with a single point in an American football game.[A] The only way such a defensive conversion safety could be scored at the high school level is if the offense itself retreated all the way back to its own end zone without allowing the defense to ever gain possession of the ball (which, in high school football, ends the conversion attempt).