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Best Footballs

Updated October 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 22 Models Considered
  • 9 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 138 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best footballs

    Last Updated October 2018

    For many, fall means football. Whether you’re watching it on television, suiting up for the high school team, driving the kids to practice, or tossing a football around in the backyard, this quintessentially American sport is loved by many fans.

    If you like to play in a weekend league, or you have a new Pop Warner player who wants to practice at home, or you just want to throw the ball after work, you could be in the market for a pro-quality football.

    No matter the reason, choosing the right football is pretty important. At BestReviews, we’re here to guide you through the buying process and help you make the right choice.

    If you’re purchasing a football for league use, first check the league’s rules on size and type of allowable footballs.

    Football features and types

    The football has had an odd shape since the beginning of gridiron or American football in the late 1860s, when players used an inflated pig bladder. As gridiron football rules developed, and the game diverged from the sports that influenced it (rugby and association football, or soccer), the ball changed, too. It morphed from a rounded, vaguely oblong shape to the version we know today, with its pebbly texture, wide laces, and sharply tapering ends.

    • Texture: The rough, pebbly surface of the football helps to improve a player’s grip on the ball, especially in wet or muddy conditions.

    • Laces: The laces also provide a gripping surface, which is why quarterbacks place their fingers over the laces as they prepare to throw the ball.

    • Shape: The tapering ends were developed specifically to improve the distance and accuracy of the forward pass. The football’s shape also adds a degree of unpredictability to the game. Even seasoned professionals can be stymied when a thrown ball wobbles too much. And when a football hits the ground and bounces, just about anything goes.

    Size

    Footballs are sold by size, with recommendations for players of different age groups. Smaller footballs are easier for younger players to handle. Some manufacturers use a number or letter to indicate size. All footballs have specific size classifications: official, youth, junior, pee-wee, and mini.

    • Official: Approved for high school, collegiate, and professional use, this is the largest game ball available. The actual size of official footballs varies about one-half inch. Official NFL game balls measure about 11 inches long and 22 inches in circumference. Collegiate and high school game balls measure about 10.5 inches long and 21 inches in circumference.
      Price: Official footballs range in price from $75 to $160.
       

    • Youth: These footballs measure about 19 inches in circumference and are best for players ages 12 to 14.
      Price: Approved youth game footballs range in price from $50 to $60.
       

    • Junior: Developed for players ages 10 to 12, junior footballs are about 17.5 to 18.5 inches in circumference and weigh around 11 ounces.
      Price: Junior footballs range in price from $40 to $60.
       

    • Pee-wee: These footballs are designed for play in pee-wee league with players ages 6 to 9. They weigh about 10 ounces and have a circumference of about 17 to 17.5 inches, still a bit big for small hands, but manageable.
      Price: Approved pee-wee game footballs range in price from $40 to $52.
       

    • Mini: Miniature footballs are used for recreational play or as toys for toddlers.
      Price: Mini footballs range in price from $6 to $17.

    Materials

    Footballs have an internal bladder that’s inflated using a needle inserted through a small valve. The internal bladder is covered with four panels of either leather, synthetic leather, or rubber, depending on the type and quality of ball.

    • Leather: Used as a cover for all official footballs, leather is very durable but not completely weather resistant. A specific tanning process is used to make the leather surface slightly tacky, a feature that is very noticeable (and appreciated) when playing in wet conditions. Almost all leagues, from professional to pee-wee, require that a leather ball be used in games. They’re also the most expensive footballs, regardless of size.

    • Synthetic (composite) leather: While not approved for collegiate or professional use, synthetic leather footballs are often used for practice at the junior, youth, and pee-wee levels. Usually much less expensive than leather footballs, the synthetic covers hold up well to adverse weather conditions, making them great backyard footballs. These have a pebbly, tacky surface just like official footballs, but it doesn’t stay tacky in wet conditions, so synthetic footballs can be very slippery.

    • Rubber: Rubber is used almost exclusively for inexpensive toy footballs. Rubber footballs are great for tossing around at cookouts and can be useful for teaching children the basics of throwing and catching.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Leather footballs can deteriorate with exposure to weather and heavy use and may leak at the seams. Proper care is essential to ensure years of play.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    The football’s unique shape is known as a prolate spheroid.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Some football brands use additional letters or numbers to denote a football’s size or classification: For example, a Wilson TDY ball and a Nike size 8 ball are both within the “youth” size classification.

    Tips

    • Keep the ball clean. Extend the life of a leather football by brushing away dirt as soon as you’re done playing with it. If the ball is caked with mud, rinse it in clear, running water and dry it indoors in a spot with plenty of airflow.

    • Make use of the prep kit. A football prep kit isn’t absolutely essential, but you can use the wax stick to put a protective coating on the surface of a leather football, lengthening its life. Use the brush to buff the wax or remove excess wax. The prep kit adds another layer of care and protection to your football.

    • Consider a synthetic football. Synthetic, or composite, footballs cost less and stand up to wet weather conditions much better than leather footballs. These footballs are also just fine for younger players to use for practice because they’re often the same size and weight as approved game balls.

    • Check a new football for flaws and leaks. Look for things like chipped logo paint or damaged seams. If the new ball is deflated, fill it to the recommended pounds per square inch (psi) and leave it for 24 hours. If the ball maintains its air pressure, great. If the ball deflates to the point that you can squeeze it, there is a slow leak.
    Rubber footballs are inexpensive, durable, and fun to play with, making them a great choice for casual games.

    FAQ

    Q. Other than taking measurements, how can an NFL football be distinguished from an NCAA football?

    A. Collegiate and high school footballs are easy to pick out by their markings: a thick white stripe on each end of the football perpendicular to the laces. Most, if not all, official balls for the NCAA and the NFL are marked with the appropriate organization’s logo. Collegiate game balls have the NCAA logo underneath the manufacturer’s name alongside the laces. On NFL game balls, the league’s logo stands alone. To the left of the logo are printed the manufacturer’s name and the ball specs. To the right of the logo is printed the signature of the NFL commissioner. Currently, Wilson Sporting Goods is the contracted manufacturer of NFL game balls.

    Q. Why do collegiate and high school footballs have large white stripes printed on them?

    A. Partly because of tradition and partly to distinguish them from professional footballs. According to some legends, in the early days of the game, stripes were painted onto the game balls so that the balls would be more visible. Before the days of brightly lit stadiums, the stripes may have been helpful in low-light conditions. As the NFL took shape, the league asked for footballs with no stripes specifically to set itself apart from collegiate football.

    Q. Why do laces and texture matter on a football?

    A. While the thick laces on a football are no longer needed to hold the ball together, they provide a good surface on which to position the fingers and help players throw the ball in a tight, accurate spiral. Further, the pebbly texture of a football’s surface makes it less slippery, so a player can get a tight grip on the ball in all but the wettest, muddiest conditions.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Enid
      Enid
      Editor
    • Kyle
      Kyle
      Writer
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Samantha
      Samantha
      Writer

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