Activities Sports & Athletics End Zone - Definition and Explaination Share PINTEREST Email Print BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons Sports & Athletics Football Basics Playing & Coaching Best of Football Plays & Formations College Football Baseball Basketball Bicycling Billiards Bodybuilding Bowling Boxing Car Racing Cheerleading Cricket Extreme Sports Golf Gymnastics Ice Hockey Martial Arts Professional Wrestling Skateboarding Skating Paintball Soccer Swimming & Diving Table Tennis Tennis Track & Field Volleyball Other Activities Learn More By James Alder James Alder is an expert on the game of American football, blogs for The New York Times, and appears on radio shows. our editorial process James Alder Updated March 17, 2017 In football, the phrase "the end zone" refers to a 10-yard section stretching the width of the field at both ends of the playing field. A player in possession of the football scores a touchdown when the ball crosses the goal line and enters the end zone. This is a fairly new rule. In the past, the player himself had to break the plane into the end zone in order to be awarded a touchdown. Now, however, it is the ball and not necessarily the player in possession of the ball that must cross the plane. This is why you see NFL players today sometimes stretching their arms out to simply get the ball across the plane. They may be out of bounds, but as long as the ball crosses the plane on the playing field, six points must be awarded. End Zone Controversy That may seem simple, but there have been many controversies involving the end zone. One recent controversy in the NFL occurred during a Seattle Seahawks - Detroit Lions game in the 2015 regular season. The Lions were mounting a late, fourth quarter comeback against the Seahawks, and driving toward the Seattle end zone. Seattle led by three, and the Lions were driving for a touchdown. Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson had the ball when he lunged for the goal line and Seattle safety Kam Chancellor knocked the ball loose just short of the end zone. At that point, if the Lions had recovered the football, it would have been a touchdown, completing the improbable comeback. But, Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright purposely knocked the ball out of the back of the end zone, preventing a possible touchdown by Detroit. Batting the ball out of the end zone intentionally is a violation of the rules, but the referees, particularly back judge Greg Wilson, believed the play by Wright was unintentional. No penalties were called and a touchback was called, awarding the ball to the Seahawks on their own 20-yard line. From there, they were able to easily run out the clock and avoid the upset. However, replays showed that Wright had intentionally batted the ball out of the end zone. The proper call would have been to give the Lions possession of the ball at the point of the fumble. They would have had a first down, because the offensive team is awarded a first down if the defending team is guilty of the infraction, and the chances are high they would have scored from that position. The coup de gras was that Wright admitted after the game he had intentionally knocked the ball out of bounds. "I wanted to just knock it out of bounds and not try to catch it and fumble it," Wright told the media after the game. "I was just trying to make a good play for my team."