Every football game, no matter if it’s the little guys or the pros, is divided into 4 quarters. High schoolers play four 12 minute quarters, while college and pros play four 15 minute quarters. Of course, there is a lot of starting and stopping of the game clock throughout the game so a football game can last, on average, from 2-4 hours.
*The longest football game is history was in 2003 when Arkansas played Kentucky. The game lasted about 5 hours and included 7 overtime periods. (Whew, that’s a looooonnngggg game).
After each quarter, the players switch sides or ends they are trying to defend on the field. This makes it fair for both teams in the event there are wind conditions, muddy fields, and glare of the sun. This also makes it nice for fans that are in different parts of the stadium to have different views of the teams.
After the second quarter, also known as the first half of the game, there is a scheduled break called half time. High school halftimes are usually around 15-20 minutes long. College halftimes are 15 minutes long and the pros have a 12 minute halftime break. One thing interesting about halftime in a professional game is that due to the media, the halftime break usually lasts longer than 12 minutes. Especially if it’s a big game like the Super Bowl, the half time entertainment can take up extra time making 12 minutes last more like 30-45 minutes.
Regardless of who is playing, halftime gives players, coaches, and fans a chance to take a break. It also gives the home organization a chance to entertain with various performances and honor various alumni and special interest people and groups.
The game clock is run by an official timekeeper in the press box. The clock does not run continuously throughout the game. As I mentioned above, it starts and stops constantly, making some games last, what feels like, forever. Here are 12 reasons the clock gets stopped during a football game.
- Time Out - Each team gets to call 3 timeouts per half.
- End of a Quarter - So the teams can switch sides they are defending.
- Incomplete Pass - When the quarterback throws the ball and no one catches it, this is called an incomplete pass and the clock stops.
- Out of Bounds - When the guy running with the ball goes outside of the sidelines this is called going out of bounds and the clock stops.
- Injury - The clock will stop in order for a team’s medical staff to evaluate and help a player that has been injured on the field.
- Penalty - If the referee sees a player doing something that is against the rules he will throw a yellow flag down on the field to indicate a penalty has been made and the clock will stop. (We will talk more about penalties later).
- Measurement - Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a team has gone the complete distance to make a first down (more on first downs later), and where the play ends needs to be measured from where the series of plays started.
- Scoring - If either team scores, the game clock will stop.
- Possession - After the kickoff a punt or a turnover, the clock will stop in order for teams to change possession of the ball.
- First Down - In high school and college, when either team makes a first down, the clock will stop. The clock will not stop in the pros when a first down is made.
- Play Review - If a play needs to be reviewed by officials in order to determine the correct call to make, the clock will stop.
- Two Minute Warning - In the pros only, the clock is stopped when there are two minutes left in the game. This is an official time out.
Each team has 40 seconds from the end of a play to get into position for the next play. If they are not ready by the time the 40 seconds are up, the team gets penalized and has to move back 5 yards. If play has stopped, like for a timeout, then they have 25 seconds from the time the referee sets the ball and starts the play clock.
Keep in mind, each team will use different strategies to either get the clock to stop or keep the clock running. For example, the team that is trying to score, might have the guy with ball deliberately run out of bounds to stop the clock. The interesting thing is that while the offense wants to stop the clock, the defense will want to keep the clock running so they may try to tackle to guy running out of bounds to keep the clock running.
When the score is tight and the game is down to the last few minutes, things can get very tricky when it comes to stopping the clock. You might notice teams taking a lot of time-outs to stop the clock or simply “taking a knee” to let the clock run out. Either way, we will talk more about the game and reasons the clock will stop and start later when we get into positions and plays. The important thing to remember is that the game clock is very important and huge upsets have occurred all because teams ran out of time.