Football: Timing and the Clock
How long is a football game?
Football games are divided up into two halves or four quarters. In high school each quarter is 12 minutes long while in the NFL and college each quarter is 15 minutes long. The clock doesn't run all of the time, however. It gets stopped for time outs and between certain plays.
Each half is started with a kick off, and the football teams change sides at the end of each quarter.
When does the clock stop in football?
The clock stops in football for a number of reasons:
Football Clock Strategy
- During timeouts
- At the end of a quarter
- When a ball carrier runs out of bounds
- On a penalty
- When a player is injured
- When a team scores
- When the ball changes possession
- After a play ending in an incomplete pass
- When the officials need to measure for a first down
- In college and high school the play clock also stops when a team gets a first down. This changes a lot of strategy at the end of games versus the NFL.
- In the NFL the clock is stopped for the Two Minute Warning. This is like a time out with two minutes in the game left.
Because the clock stops on certain kinds of plays, this means football teams use different strategies depending on the score and the amount of time left. At the end of the game or the half, one team will be trying to score. They may try to run the football out of bounds or run pass plays where the clock will stop between plays rather than keep running. They will also try to use less time when setting up for plays and use their timeouts at critical times to stop the clock. This speed-up offense is often called the Two Minute Offense.
Meanwhile the other team will be trying to "run-out" the clock. They may run the football a lot or try to tackle the other team in-bounds to try and keep the clock running.
What are the 25 and 40 second play clocks?
The offensive team only has so long to hike the football and start another play. In the case where play is continuing, they have 40 seconds from the end of the previous play to start a new play. 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.
Referee Clock and Timing Signals
- Timeout - A timeout is signaled by the referee waving his arms above his head.
- Clock not Stopping - The referee can signal that the clock isn't stopping by moving his arm in a wide circle in the clockwise direction.
- Delay of Game - If the play clock goes to zero before the offensive team starts a play, the referee will signal delay of game by folding his arms in front of him.
- Reset Play Clock - To start the 25 second clock the referee will hold his right hand in the air, open palm out and pump his arm to signal the clock starting. He will use both arms to signal the 40 second clock is starting.
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