Football games are a significant event in the United States, including various activities like tailgating. But exactly how long do most football games last?
How Long Do Football Games Last?
Football games last between one and four hours, depending on the league. Youth football games last 1-1.5 hours, high school football games last about two hours, college football games last 3 hours and 22 minutes, and NFL games last 3 hours and 12 minutes. These are the average estimates.
Sporting events like football games are a popular source of entertainment for fans. They are also an excellent activity for kids and young athletes to try. With this in mind, we have gathered data to provide accurate estimates for how long football games last at each level.
Here’s How Long Football Games Last
Football is widely considered the most popular sport in the United States, and it’s played at various levels, including youth, high school, college, and professional. But how long do these games last?
The length of a football game can vary depending on the level at which it is played. For example, youth games are fast and finish much quicker than pro football or college football.
This is partially because there is no television coverage, so commercials and TV timeouts don’t exist. The game clock is also shorter, and games get longer as players get older and more skilled.
The rules also change at each level, including different quarter lengths, game clock rules, etc.
We aim to explain these rules clearly, so it’s easy to understand how long a football game lasts for all leagues.
Youth Football Games
The average youth football game will last 1-1.5 hours, depending on age. The clock may stop for various reasons, which can add additional time to the game.
Typically, there are four quarters with eight minutes on the game clock. Some youth leagues even use a running clock to keep the game moving, resulting in shorter games.
There is also a brief stoppage between each quarter and half time for about 10-15 minutes.
Scheduling is also a concern for many youth football leagues, so finishing games quickly is a priority to open up the field for the next game.
High School Football Games
High school football games are for 48 minutes, with two halves and four quarters. Each quarter is 12 minutes, resulting in two 24-minute halves.
There is a halftime break of about 15 minutes too.
The clock stops for various reasons, such as injuries, penalties, and timeouts, which can add additional time to the game. Based on these rules and factors, the average high school game is about two hours long.
High school games only have 12 fewer minutes of gameplay compared to the NFL and college, but they are much faster. This is because there are no commercials, reviews, replays, etc.
College Football Games
College football games are closer to NFL rules than high school rules in many ways. They are much longer, with a total length of 60 minutes, including four 15-minute quarters and two halves.
These games have many more factors contributing to the expected game length, like official reviews and commercials.
College games are long because the clock also temporarily stops after every first down.
The NCAA estimates the average college football game in 2022 is 3 hours and 22 minutes. This factors in everything, including injuries, commercials, timeouts, etc.
NFL games last for over three hours, and the average game is roughly 3 hours and 12 minutes. This is because of various factors like timeouts, commercials, flags, etc.
They consist of four quarters that last 15 minutes each, for a total of 60 minutes of game time. However, the actual length of an American football game can vary greatly.
There is a halftime break of about 15 minutes between the second and third quarters. The clock stops for various reasons, such as injuries, penalties, and timeouts, which can add additional time to the game.
The NFL also has massive TV deals which require networks to allocate a preselected amount of time to display commercials for their advertisers. These TV timeouts are part of the reason why it takes over three hours for an NFL game to conclude.
Canadian Football Games
The average length of a Canadian football game (CFL) is 2.5-3.5 hours. The games have some rules similar to the NFL, including four 15-minute quarters for a total of 60 minutes of game time.
The two 30-minute halves are split with a brief 15-minute halftime break. There are commercials and timeouts in the CFL, but games move faster than the average NFL or college football game.
The CFL also has many different rules, including a larger field, but many timing rules remain the same.
Incomplete passes and plays out of bounds stop the clock, while running plays and completed passes do not.
The CFL also has a three-minute warning instead of a two-minute warning like the NFL. While many rules might be different, they both play four 15-minute quarters, and the games will take about three hours on average.
Football Game Time Explained
Football is a complex game with many rules that always change each year. New updates to the rules in the NFL and college are to help the game, improve player safety, and make it more entertaining for fans.
With this in mind, we can review football game time and how it works. This includes how quarters work, halves work, the game clock rules, overtime rules, and other similar rules worth noting.
All football games use four quarters as a way to separate the game time. The time per quarter will depend on the level of football being played.
For example, youth games will have shorter quarter lengths of eight minutes, while college and NFL games have 15-minute quarters.
Four quarters in every game equates to 32 or 60 minutes of total football.
At the end of each quarter, the field of play gets flipped too. This is done to make things fair during the game if there is wind or other challenging weather conditions.
Football games are also divided into two halves. The initial coin toss decides which team will receive the ball first. Whoever kicks off on the opening kickoff will receive the kick after halftime in the second half.
The number of timeouts per team also resets after the end of the first half. At halftime, there is a 12-minute break for both teams to rest and regroup in the locker room.
However, the halftime length is only sometimes consistent, especially for pivotal games like the Super Bowl.
Game Clock Rules
The game clock in American football games operates much differently than in many other sports. At the start of a new quarter, the clock begins to run when the ball is snapped, and live play resumes.
The clock stops when there is an incomplete pass until the ball is snapped for the next play. The clock remains running for a completed pass or running play.
This is why run-heavy games tend to finish faster.
The clock will also temporarily stop if a runner goes out of bounds. Once the referee spots the ball for the next play, the clock resumes running unless the runner goes out of bounds with under two minutes in the first half or under five minutes in the second half.
There is also a game clock and a play clock used in both college and NFL games. The play clock is when the offense needs to snap the ball.
If the ball gets snapped after the play clock reaches 0, the offense gets a delay of game penalty. This resets to 40 after every play.
The team with the most points at the end of the four quarters is declared the winner. If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, the game goes into overtime.
However, the overtime rules vary based on the level of play. For example, the NFL puts 10 minutes on the clock in regular season games, and the first team to score wins the game unless the first score is a field goal.
If neither team scores, the game ends in a tie.
In college football overtime, each team is given one possession of the ball starting from the opponent’s 25-yard line. If the first team scores a touchdown, the second team with the ball must do the same to force a second overtime.
There are no ties in college football, so college overtime games will last much longer on average than an NFL game.
The two-minute warning is a crucial aspect of football games in the NFL. It acts as a timeout and a stoppage in play.
This is when the clock reaches 2:00 in the second and fourth quarters.
This rule does not exist at any other level of football outside the NFL. It works in favor of teams in close games who need the clock to stop while trying to get the ball back.
This was initially a rule because the game clock was kept by hand, so the stoppage was to confirm the correct time entering the final two minutes.
But the NFL respects its tradition and has never thought to remove it from the game.
Next, we can look at timeouts and how they impact the game time and length of a football game. In each half, both teams get three timeouts to use at any time.
The timeouts do not carry over after halftime, so it’s common to see each team use all of their timeouts.
When a timeout is called, it’s usually followed by a 1-2 minute break and a brief commercial interruption.
Timeouts used to stop the clock are typically faster than those used for more tactical reasons. When all timeouts are used, the game will last longer. This happens up to 12 times per game, resulting in longer games.
When an injury occurs, the officials take a brief timeout. There are more official timeouts during the game, and after kickoffs, punts, and scoring plays, timeouts happen for commercials too.
Another aspect of time in football games is penalties. When the referee stops play and throws a yellow flag, it can cause the expected game length to increase because it stops play and also temporarily stops the clock.
On average, there are 13.4 penalties called per game in the NFL. The clock will typically only stop on most defensive penalties, and if the clock were running before, it would keep running when the offense commits a penalty.
This rule exists so teams can’t purposefully get a penalty late in games to stop the clock. The game time is also longer when more flags occur than the game average.
Do All Football Games Last The Same Amount Of Time?
No, not all American football games last the same amount of time. The league rules in which the game is played determine the length of an American football game.
While some games may last the same time, it’s rare, and each game has a different run time. The only thing consistent between each game is the actual 60-minute game clock.
High-scoring games take much longer to complete than low-scoring ones. The style of play matters too. For example, run-heavy offenses like Army, Navy, and Air Force in college have fast games because they run the ball nearly every play, so the clock is always running.
Why Do Football Games Take Longer To Finish?
There are several reasons why American football games last longer than other sports like soccer or basketball.
This includes more stoppages, injuries, commercials, and less overall game action.
One reason why football games take longer to finish than other sporting events is because of injuries.
This is a violent contact sport, and injuries are extremely common, even minor injuries that only cause players to miss a few plays.
However, there is also a risk of serious injury. When this happens, it requires extended medical attention on the field with the game clock stopped causing the game time and expected overall length to increase.
In rare cases, severe injuries can happen that require on-field ambulances or carts. This is when the player cannot leave the field on their own, causing lots of added time to the game.
Flags & Stoppages In-Play
Next, another obvious reason why an NFL game may take longer is because of extra flags and more stoppages in play. This can happen due to excessive penalties by either or both teams or longer reviews and coaches challenges.
Many flags cause the refs to stop gameplay and the clock from stopping running. Also, the NFL has a rule that reviews all scoring plays automatically, or a coach can challenge a play one or two times per game.
Each review takes 2-5 minutes on average. This depends on how close the call is and whether or not it will be overturned.
Commercials are another reason why football games take longer. The average number of commercials during nationally televised games in college football is 55 minutes, with 27.5 minutes in each half.
This number is slightly lower than the number during NFL games, but there can be more because of unexpected stoppages. However, these commercials account for nearly 33% of every football broadcast.
Fans have complained about the number of commercials because it sometimes causes games to extend too much.
End Of Quarter & Half-Time
At the end of each quarter and during halftime, there is a set amount of time before play resumes. While it may be small, it does add time to the game’s total length.
There are roughly 3-5 minutes of commercials between quarters, and halftime is 12-15 minutes. This will add about 30 minutes to the total game time.
Lastly, we must consider the game’s action and how the game is being played. When two pass-heavy teams play, it results in more incomplete passes and more clock stoppages.
When two run-heavy teams play, the clock remains running more, so the game also moves faster. This impacts how long the game will take to compete, which is why high-scoring games always take longer.
How Long Is The Actual Playing Time In Football Games?
One thing many people need help to believe is how long the actual gameplay is in football. The games are 60 minutes long, but the ball is live and in play for only a fraction of this time.
It’s estimated the actual playing time, or the time the ball is in play is usually about 11 minutes for NFL games and about 15 minutes for college games.
The clock runs roughly 20-35 seconds between each play, which is one reason why the games are so long despite less action.
A majority of the football game occurs pre-snap with the clock running. This means there are only 11-15 minutes of live action with the ball in play during the 60 minutes of game time. Otherwise, the games would take far too long, and the rules would need adjusting.
How Long Is The Halftime Of A Football Game?
The halftime of an NFL game is typically 12 minutes long.
This time is used for the halftime show and for the teams to rest and make any necessary adjustments to their strategies.
College football has a longer halftime of 20 minutes, which is an NCAA rule. This is because both schools have bands and are allowed to perform on the field during the half, so extra time is required.
Lower-level games like high school and youth football are shorter. Typically, the halftime is about 10 minutes, but this varies based on the league.
It’s less of a concern in youth and high school games when considering the length of a game too.
Can Football Games End In A Tie?
Yes, American football games can end in a tie. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, each league has an overtime period to determine a winner.
But despite overtime, games can end in a tie. However, this only can happen in the NFL because there is one overtime period of 10 minutes, so if this ends in a tie, the game is considered a tie for each team’s season record.
In the playoffs, the NFL will play until a winner is decided. There is no tie.
In college, there are no ties, and teams will play as many overtimes as needed to determine a winner.
With each overtime, the rules get more challenging to increase the likelihood of a team winning the game.
At the youth level, there is no set standard for overtime periods. Some leagues may have them while others won’t, so ties are undoubtedly possible.
What Is The Longest A Football Game Can Take To Finish?
The longest an American football game can take to finish depends on the league and the specific rules in place.
There have been many more long college football games than NFL games because of the overtime rules.
The longest NFL game took 82 minutes and 40 seconds of actual game time, but technically it was not the longest real-time game. The longest one lasted over seven hours and eight minutes long because of multiple weather delays.
The longest college football game ever went into seven overtime periods and lasted 4 hours and 56 minutes. These are rare occasions, but it shows there is no set time for what can be expected at a football game.
However, it’s rare to see games extend this long. But when an NFL game goes to overtime, this requires an extra stoppage after the fourth quarter ends, a coin flip, and numerous commercials.
How Many Commercials Are There In One NFL Game?
During an NFL game, there are an average of 63 minutes of total ads and commercials during the television broadcast. This equals 33% of the average NFL broadcast, so fans see plenty of commercials during each game.
This is one of the most obvious reasons NFL games take over three hours. The NFL also requires at least 16-20 commercial breaks during each game and 8-10 in each half, meaning each ad break is about 2-3 minutes long.
This is a significant amount of commercial breaks and is similar to what other sports require, including basketball and baseball. Soccer is one sport that does not require commercial breaks because of a running game clock.
One way for leagues like the NCAA and NFL to shorten games for fans is by eliminating a few commercial breaks. However, it’s unlikely to happen because these commercials lead to more lucrative TV deals.
- The average NFL game will last 3 hours and 12 minutes, while college football games are a little longer at 3 hours and 22 minutes.
- Youth and high school football games are much shorter, with the average length between 1 hour and 2.5 hours depending on the league, state rules, and age group of the players.
- Televised football games take longer because of ads and commercials. For example, NFL games have an average of 63 minutes of total commercials and 16-20 total commercial breaks.
- Factors like the number of flags, injuries, stoppages, and game style will affect how long the average football game lasts.