American Football Rules - Time of Play

Time of Play

Collegiate and professional football games are 60 minutes long, divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. In high school football, 12 minute quarters are usually played. The clock is stopped frequently, however, so that a typical college or professional game can exceed three hours in duration. The referee controls the game clock and stops the clock after any incomplete pass or any play that ends out of bounds. In addition, each team is allowed 3 timeouts in each half that they may use at their own discretion.

The clock may also be stopped for an officials' time-out, after which, if the clock was running, it is restarted. For example: if there is a question as to whether or not a team has moved the ball far enough for a first down, the officials may use a measuring device (the chains) to determine the distance. While this measurement is taking place, the officials will signal for a stoppage of the clock. Once the measurement is finished and the ball is placed at the proper location (spotted), the referee will then signal for the clock to restart. Additional situations where officials may take a time-out are to administer a penalty or for an injured player to be removed from the field.

In addition to the game clock, a separate play clock is also used. This counts down the time the offense has to start the next play before it is assessed a penalty for delay of game (see below). This clock is typically 25 seconds from when the referee marks the ball ready for play. The NFL and NCAA use a 40-second play clock that starts immediately after the previous play ends, though for certain delays, such as penalty enforcement, the offense has 25 seconds from when the ball is marked ready. The purpose of the play clock is to ensure that the game progresses at a consistent pace, preventing unnecessary delays.

Officials also call for media time-outs, which allow time for television and radio advertising. They also stop the clock after a change of possession of the ball from one team to the other. Successful PATs (Point(s) After Touchdown), a field goal try, or a kickoff may also warrant stopping the clock. If an instant replay challenge is called during the game, the referees signal for a media time out. The referee signals these media time-outs by first using the time out signal, then extending both arms in a horizontal position.

Separating the first and second halves is halftime. Teams change ends of the field at the end of the first quarter and the end of the third quarter. In the NFL, an automatic timeout is called by the officials when there are two minutes left in both the second and the fourth quarters, and overtime; this is most commonly referred to as the two-minute warning. No such warning is normally given in amateur football, though if there is no visible stadium clock, the referee will give a two-minute warning (four minutes in high school).

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