The Length of a Football Game


For novice spectators, the length of a football game can be perplexing. Whereas the clock on the scoreboard may indicate a specific amount of minutes left in a game, it often turns out that the game lasts well beyond the displayed time. To understand the length of an American football game, there are several factors that must be taken into account.

Playing Time

  • The playing time of a college or professional football game is 60 minutes. This hour is split into four quarters of 15 minutes apiece, so each half lasts 30 minutes. If you have ever heard a football player or coach tell his team to "play 60 minutes," he is basically motivating them to give their all until the very last second of the game. However, a football game never lasts for only 60 minutes, due to a number of other factors that stretch a typical game to around three hours of real time, including injuries, time outs and the possibility of an overtime.

Time Outs

  • Time outs are standard in a football game, and include those due to injuries and a team wanting to stop the clock. Injury timeouts are called when necessary by officials when a player has been hurt on the field, and last until the player either walks away or is carted away by medical professionals.

    In addition to injury timeouts, each team can call three time outs in each half. In the event of an overtime, each team gets three more timeouts. These timeouts are typically used to stop the clock in an effort to score before time runs out. Timeouts are not rolled over to the second half of the game. For example, if a team only uses one of its three time outs in the first half, it begins the second half with three, not five.


  • Halftime is the break between the first and second half of a football game, and often consists of entertainment for the crowd. In high school and college football, entertainment usually consists of a marching band, dance team or cheerleading squad performing a routine. In professional football, most teams entertain the crowds at halftime with their cheerleading squads, although famous musicians and performers are usually brought in for major games, such as the Super Bowl.

College Overtime

  • Overtime is meant to break a tie. If at the end of 60 minutes of playing time neither team has outscored the other, the game goes into overtime to establish a winner. The college overtime rules are different from that of professional football. In college football, overtime lasts until there is a winner--each team gets a chance to score. For example, if team A scores a touchdown in overtime, team B is then given a chance to score as well. If the second team scores a touchdown, the game goes into double-overtime.

Professional Overtime

  • Professional overtime rules were changed in March 2010. Previously, the first team to score won. Now, If the first team in possession of the ball during overtime gets only a field goal, the opposing team gets a chance to score. It the team scores a touchdown, it wins. If it scores a field goal overtime continues, and if it fails to score the other team wins.

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