Many factors influence the length of a football game, no matter what league it may be. For example, in professional football, quarters are 15 minutes. But the average professional football game is 3 hours and 12 minutes. Playing time can be lengthened by weather, sideline antics, the time between plays, and more.
In addition, if the game is tied at the end of four quarters, it goes into overtime. This structure is the same for most football games; however, the length of quarters may change. Every level of competitive football has unique rules, including overtime. Here are some differences.
Football Game Varying Lengths
Let’s look at the length of football games for various levels of play.
National Football League
The average length of an NFL football game is 3 hours and 12 minutes.
Since quarters are 15 minutes long, the actual gameplay is a total of 60 minutes. The clock stops for penalties when the ball goes out of bounds for commercial breaks, incomplete passes, and injuries. With these pauses, the average quarter takes approximately 40 minutes. In 2017, a rule was put in place for halftime to be 13 minutes and 30 seconds.
See How many teams make the NFL playoffs?
Our favorite game of the year, The Super Bowl, has a minimum of 30 minutes of halftime.
If the game ends in a tie, it goes into a ten-minute overtime period. During the regular season, if the team that receives the ball first scores a touchdown, they win. The game stays a tie if it is still tied after ten-minute overtime during the regular season.
Games cannot end in a tie during the playoffs. Overtime continues, if necessary, until a winner is declared.
See How many games are in an NFL season?
NCAA Football Games
The average length of an NCAA game is 3 hours and 24 minutes.
Quarters are the same in college as in the NFL, 15 minutes. But the halftime is 20 minutes long to allow time for the marching band. Because College games cannot end in a tie, they can be extremely long.
On October 23, 2021, the longest game in college football history, based on the number of overtime (9), was held. Illinois defeated Penn State after two normal overtime and seven two-point conversion tries. The final score was 20 to 18.
In the history of the NCAA, there have been five games in college football that have gone to at least seven overtime periods.
High School Football
The average length of a High School League Football Game is 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes.
For league games during the season, quarters are 12 minutes each. The halftime can last from 10 to 15 minutes, depending on whether the marching band will play. For playoff games, quarters are shortened to 10 minutes.
Overtime rules vary by state, with each state picking any type of overtime rules they want. Some states elect not to play overtime, and the game remains a tie. Most states have adopted the use of the Kansas Plan.
After a coin flip in the Kansas Plan, the team that won the coin flip may choose to receive the ball. The team would be given the ball at the 10- yard line. That team has four downs to score either a touchdown or a field goal.
The team winning the coin toss may elect not to receive the ball. Then, the other team is given four downs to score. If each team has had a chance to score and neither is successful, the game remains tied except in the playoffs.
In Texas, High School Football is governed by the rules of the NCAA.
There are mercy rules in most states with High School Leagues. These rules come into effect when a team has built a substantial lead. If the rule is in force, the game can end, or the clock continues to run and cannot stop.
The Mercy Rule should be invoked if a team was ahead 48 to 0.
Youth Football and PeeWee Leagues
The average length of a Youth/Pee Wee League football game is 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Youth/Pee Wee League quarters are only 8 minutes for the youngest players. Quarters go up to 10 minutes for kids about to enter High School; Halftimes are generally 10 to 15 minutes long.
Not all Youth Football Leagues have Mercy Rules, but most do. There is typically no overtime unless it is a playoff game, in which case, the league decides the overtime rules.
Flag Football League
The average length of a Flag Football Game is 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Play is divided into two 10-to-25-minute halves with 5-to-10-minute halftime.
Flag football may be played by kids as young as six or senior citizens. A player must be in possession of the ball before they can have a flag legally removed. Removing a flag from a player is called deflagging.
Basically, the rules of flag football are the same as tackle football. The biggest difference is the size of the field. It is just 25 yards long with 7-yard end zones.
See Football Captions.
Canadian Rules Football Game Length
The average length of a Canadian Rules football game is between 3 and 4 hours.
During league play, games run for about 3 hours. The Grey Cup Championship Game can be as long as 4 hours. This is due to the longer halftime show and other factors. The Grey Cup is Canada’s Super Bowl.
Canadian Rules Football has its roots firmly entrenched in Rugby, with several carry-over Rugby Rules. However, the Canadian Football League (CFL) uses the same quarters, halftime structure, and most rules of play as the NFL. Overtime rules differ in both the regular season and Grey Cup.
During the regular season, the coin toss winning team gets the ball at their opponent’s 35-yard line. This team gets an opportunity to play and score or give up the ball on downs, a fumble, or an interception.
Then the team that loses the coin toss gets the ball at the 35-yard line. They also have the opportunity to play and score or give up the ball on downs, a fumble, or an interception.
If, after two overtime procedures, the game is still tied, it remains a tie in the regular season. In the Grey Cup Championship, play continues over time until there is a winner.
Australian Rules Football Game Length
It is difficult to determine the average length of an Australian Rules football game. With 20-minute quarters and equal halftime, it is longer than an NFL or NCCA game. Before these time limits, Australian Rules football games could last up to 2 days.
Australian Rules Football dates to 1859, and like Canadian Rules Football, takes many ques from Rugby. The entire team is 22 players, with 18 allowed on the field at any time. There are four interchange players that sit on the bench.
The interchange players may be substituted at any time during the game. This does slow play. However, teams are limited to 90 interchange substitutions per game.
As established by the Australian Football League (AFL), overtime is called Extra Time. Starting in 2019, three-minute periods are added if a game is tied at the end of the play. If there is no winner after the first period, periods continue to be added until there is a winner.
See Football Field Dimensions.
Factors That Can Affect Football Game Length
Several different aspects of play can affect the length of a football game.
Depending on how the overtime plays out, it can add up to 30 minutes or more to a game. If you fall asleep, DVR the entire game is an excellent idea.
A penalty causes both the play clock and game clock to stop while it is sorted out. The referees must huddle together to determine what the final call will be.
The NFL receives more complaints about this game slowing down than any other. When a coach or a referee calls for a replay, it grinds the game to a halt.
An average timeout lasts for two minutes. Each team is given three timeouts per half, which equals 12 total timeouts per game. Timeouts could add 24 minutes to the length of a football game.
Clock Stoppages, Quarter Breaks, and Two-Minute Warnings
The game clock stops anytime a runner goes out of bounds, if a pass is incomplete, or if there is an injury. A break at the end of each quarter (first and third) allows teams to exchange places on the field. The Two-Minute Warning was initially designed for referees and the timekeeper. This allowed them to synchronize watches for the final two minutes of the half and at the game end.
What is the longest football game ever played?
Funny Jokes About the Length of Football Games
1.) Why are centipedes not allowed to play on bug football teams?
It takes too long to put their cleats on.
2.) Where do quarterbacks go when they get old?
Out to pass-ture.
3.) Football players have been playing so long by the fourth quarter. What do they have to catch?
4.) I get a text from my girlfriend at 8:00 PM; she says, “Which do you love more, me or football?”
I think about it, and at 11:15 PM, I text back, “You, of course!”
5.) By the end of the football game, the coach was wrapped up like a mummy; what did he say?
“Let’s wrap this up.”
6.) How are a baby and a quarterback similar?
Football games are so long that they both take naps.
If you’re not going to go all the way, why go at all?
Coaching is not how much you know. It’s how much you can get players to do.
The greatest mistake is to continue to practice a mistake.
How do you win? By getting average players to play good and good players to play great. That’s how you win.
Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow, I can accomplish what others can’t.
If you’re not in the parade, you watch the parade. That’s life.
A Champion is simply someone who did not give up when they wanted to.
Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.
In order to win a game, you must first not lose it.
Work isn’t work unless you would like to be doing something else.
If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.
I never graduated from Iowa. But I was only there for two terms: Truman’s and Eisenhower’s.
Fun Facts on Football Game Length
1.) football has the shortest active game time of all the major professional sports. Football has between 15 and 20 minutes of live-action. Baseball is next with slightly over 20 minutes. The English Premier Soccer League, NHL, and the NBA all have about 45 minutes of active game time.
2.) In the NFL, 25% of an average broadcast is commercials. In an entire football game, there are approximately 100 commercials. This works out to 15 to 25 commercials per quarter.
3.) An NFL game has been played in as little as 2 hours and 29 minutes. The San Diego Chargers defeated the Indianapolis Colts 26 to 19. The shortest Super Bowl on record was 3 hours and 44 minutes (including halftime). Since that game, six additional games have been completed in less than three hours.
4.) The longest recorded NFL game was 7 hours and 8 minutes. The game featured the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. It took place on September 9, 2018. The game was delayed due to lightning, with just 1:11 left to go in the first half.
5.) An unusually long first lightning delay lasted 1 hour and 57 minutes. With 6:47 left in the third quarter, a second lightning delay was called. It lasted another 2 hours and 2 minutes. The game didn’t end until 8:10 PM, with the Miami Dolphins winning over Tennessee 27 to 20. Both teams scored 17 points in the fourth quarter.
6.) Video replays can take an average of 17 minutes per game.
7.) In 1956, Australian Rules Football was played as a demonstration sport in the Olympics.
Final Thoughts: How Long is A Football Game?
The different football leagues, and especially the NFL, are concerned about the length of games. Viewership has decreased as games have gotten longer, and fans have less patience. Since 2017, the NFL has begun to take action to speed up play.
There are several factors that the NFL is considering to shorten the game length. These measures include lowering the number of commercials, shortening the play clock from 40 seconds to 30 seconds, using lasers instead of chains for measuring first downs, eliminating some of the breaks taken by broadcasters in the booth, and more.
No matter what changes are made to football to make it faster, fans will still sit and stare for three hours on a Sunday afternoon.
By Tim Moodie
Tim Moodie is a writer, inventor, and creative director based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
You are on our How Long Is A Football Game page.
You might like:
Football Terms and Definitions