How Long is a Football Game? [NFL, College, High School, Youth]

If you are watching or attending a football game for the first time you may be wondering about the length of the game.  How long is a football game?

The average NFL football game lasts slightly over three hours in length.  In recent years, the longest average was in 2015 when the average game length was 3 hours and 9 minutes. 

College football games can be even longer than NFL games. The average college game lasts just under 3 1/2 hours.

If you are attending a high school or youth football game, you can expect the game length to be much shorter than the NFL or college football. 

LevelAvg. Game Length
NFL3+ hours
NCAA3.5 hours
High School2-2.5 hours
Youth1-1.5 hours

A football game is made up of 4 quarters.  The length of these quarters will vary depending on the level of football. A halftime occurs between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  Pre-game festivities (like national anthem and coin toss) take place right before the opening kickoff and last about 10 minutes. 

The length of a football game differs between the NFL and amateur football.  In this article we will discuss: the length of

  • How long are NFL games?
  • How long are college football games?
  • How long are high school football games?
  • How long are youth football games?
  • How long are Canadian Football League games?
  • How longer are Arena League Football games?

NFL Game Length

The NFL is America’s most popular sport.  Fans host watch parties with friends and family or purchase tickets and go to the game and tailgate before kickoff.  If you are going to a game, going to a watch party, or even hosting a watch party, you may be wondering exactly how long the game will last. 

How Long Are NFL Games?

You should expect an NFL game to last slightly over 3 hours.  As we discussed earlier, in recent years, the longest average was in 2015 when the average game length was 3 hours and 9 minutes.

An NFL game is made up of 4 quarters, with a halftime between the 2nd quarter and the 3rd quarter.

How Long Is an NFL Quarter?

NFL quarters are 15 minutes in game time.  Because the NFL game-clock does not run continuously, the time it takes to play a 15-minute quarter is slightly over 40 minutes real time on average. 

How Long Is an NFL Halftime?

Halftime in the NFL lasts for 13 minutes and 30 seconds as of the 2017 NFL season.    But expect a much longer halftime during the Super Bowl where live music acts can drag halftime out close to 30 minutes in length. 

Regulating and structuring halftime became a point of emphasis for the NFL over recent years as part of its overall commitment to fans to keep the game as fast and exciting as possible.

How Long Is an NFL Game On TV?

NFL games on TV will typically last between 3 hours and 15 minutes and 3 hours and 30 minutes.  There are exceptions to this and every game is unique. 

NFL games last on average slightly over 3 hours.  An NFL broadcast will usually have a small introduction where the broadcasters talk about the game and the significant players and any unique circumstances surrounding the game. Then the broadcast will sneak in a commercial break before the opening kickoff. 

There also may be a small post-game segment on the broadcast that might consist of a small minute-long recap of the game by the broadcasters in the booth followed by an on-the-field interview of a player or coach. 

When you take the pregame and postgame television extras and add them to the average length of an NFL game (slightly over 3 hours), that pushes the length of the broadcast out near 3 hours and 15 minutes or more. 

How Long Is an NFL Game in Person?

If you are attending an NFL game in person, the game itself (from kickoff until end of regulation) will typically take slightly over 3 hours.  But if you want to be in the stands for player introductions, the national anthem, and coin toss before the game, your time in stadium will be closer to 3 hours and 15 minutes on average.

There are obviously multiple exceptions to this time frame and every game is unique.  In the next section of the article we discuss what types of things can slow down NFL games and make them last longer. 

But it’s important to remember that if you are attending a game in person, there are other things involved that will add time to your trip.  Parking and walking into the stadium may take 15-30 minutes itself.  Finding your seat and going to the concession stand may take 15-20 minutes.  Then after the game, walking to your car will take another 10-15 minutes.  And if you want to tailgate before the game, attending an NFL game can quickly become a 4-6 hour event. 

What Factors Slow Down NFL Games?

There is a lot of variance in the length of an NFL game.  There are several factors that influence how long an individual game will last such as:

  • Penalties
  • Style of Play
  • Weather
  • Replay Reviews
  • Game Flow
  • Broadcast

Let’s discuss each of these in detail to highlight how they affect the length of a game. 


Penalties slow down an NFL game because it takes time for the referees to convene and to announce the call.  As we have mentioned throughout this article, in recent years, the year with the longest average game length was 2015 when the average game length was 3 hours and 9 minutes.  It is no coincidence that 2015 is also the highest average of penalties per game in recent years. 

In 2015 there was an average of 17.6 penalties per game in the NFL.  For comparison, in 2014 the average was 16.9 penalties per game and in 2016 the average was 16.6 penalties per game.  Both 2014 and 2016 seasons had average game lengths at least two full minutes shorter than 2015. 

When a penalty flag is thrown by a referee, the play is blown dead via whistle and the referees convene. The call is then transferred to the head referee who turns on his microphone and announces the penalty to the stadium crowd.  Then the ball is moved to reflect the outcome of the penalty.  This process can easily take a minute, or maybe even longer.

There are times where the referees will have conflicting calls or have differing opinions on what happened. There also are situations where there are two separate penalties on the same play that the referees must sort through.  Coaches also slow down the penalty process when they argue or ask for explanation. 

Penalties are necessary to ensure that games are played by rule, but an abundance of penalties kills game flow and hurts fan experience.  The NFL works with both referees and players to try to reduce penalties as much as possible and to keep the game flow crisp and entertaining for fans.  This is easier said than done. 

Style of Play

Games that involve teams that like to pass the ball on offense will typically last longer than games that involve teams that like to run the ball on offense.  This is due to the fact that the game clock stops on an incomplete pass. 

Games that involve more total passes will see more game-clock stoppages than games with a lot of running plays, which ultimately will result in a longer game. 

Pace of play is also a factor.  Some teams prefer to run most of the play clock down before snapping the ball whereas other teams like to play up-tempo and snap the ball as quickly as possible to try and tire the defense.  Teams that let the play clock drain before snapping the ball will play longer games. 


There occasionally will be games that have an in-game delay due to an imminent weather threat.  Delays like this are usually caused by lightning being close to the stadium. 

Weather can also shorten the length of a game by altering the style of play to a heavy run attack.  Extreme snow or rain storms make the football hard to grip and throw. This will cause teams to run the ball a lot. 

As we discussed above, a run-heavy offensive attack results in less game-clock stoppages and shortens the overall length of a game. 

Replay Reviews

Replay reviews are a valuable part of modern football.  In the NFL today, certain calls can be reviewed by instant replay if a coach thinks the referees made an incorrect call.  Replay review was adopted into the NFL in 1999.

While replay reviews have improved the sport and helped assure that the right call is made, it also has resulted in longer games.  Previous to 1999, when instant replay didn’t exist, when a call was made on the field, there was no opportunity for replay and game play moved on without a delay.

Game Flow

A back-and-forth highly contested football game will often last longer than the average football game.  If the score is close late, the team that is behind will use timeouts to preserve game clock to try and get the ball back to score.  They will also get out of bounds or spike the football to stop the game clock when they have the football on offense.  Because of this, these types of games generally drag out near the end and can easily eat up an extra 30 minutes of time before the game ends. 

There are occasions where this happens before the half too.  If a team is driving to score, they will use their timeouts to preserve clock.  This does not happen every game and is dependent on how many timeouts the team has, how close they are to scoring, and if the coach likes the matchup of his offense versus the opposing defense enough to try and score quickly against them. 

Broadcast Time

Primetime stand-alone games (like Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night) stand a chance of lasting a bit longer than regular Sunday NFL games.  Some primetime games may have extra pregame festivities.  There also may be halftime entertainment or a jersey retirement ceremony. 

The greatest example of this is obviously the Super Bowl, which has more commercial breaks and a longer halftime show. 

Although primetime regular season games do stand a possibility of adding extra time the length of the game, the overall difference in game length will be minimal.

NFL Action to Improve Pace of Game

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said he does not think NFL games need to be significantly shortened, but he has acknowledged that the league needs to continue to “take that down time out, which is not entertaining.” 

The NFL in recent years has reformatted its in-game commercial structure for TV viewers, reducing the overall number of commercial breaks.  They’ve also begun regulating the time after an extra point to try and speed up the transition between the extra point and the ensuing kickoff. 

The NFL is also constantly evaluating the replay process to try and find ways to make it quicker and more effective.  Replay is seen as an essential part of modern sports, but one major drawback is it can kill game flow and drain the excitement out of a raucous crowd.

College Football Game Length

College Football is an exciting sport that has passionate following by fan bases. Games are fun events for students and alumni to spend Saturdays tailgating and hanging with friends and family.

If you are hosting a watch party or going to a game in person, how long can you expect a college football NCAA game to last?

How Long Is A College Football Game?

A college football game is on average just under three and a half hours in length.  It consists of 60 minutes of game action.  

In 2016, the average FBS college football game lasted 3 hours and 24 minutes.  The average 2016 college football game (3 hours 24 minutes) was 17 minutes longer than the average 2016 NFL game (3 hours 7 minutes).

Some college football enthusiasts consider this to be a problem and individual conferences have begun to take measures to try and remedy this length-of-game issue.

How Many Quarters in College Football?

A college football game consists of four quarters with quarter two and three separated by a halftime.  College football shares these attributes with the NFL, which also has 60 minutes of game time split across four 15-minute quarters with a halftime separating quarters two and three. 

How Long Is A College Football Quarter?

A college football quarter is 15 minutes in length.  The average college football quarter lasts slightly over 45 minutes in real time. 

How Long Is A College Football Game on TV?

A college football game lasts just under 3 and a half hours.  If you are watching the television broadcast, you can expect an additional five-minute introduction in most cases.  There also may be a small amount of time allotted after the game to interview a player or coach. 

You can expect an average television broadcast to last slightly over 3 and a half hours.  There is obviously a lot of variation in this for individual games.  Some games may last beyond four hours in total time. 

How Long Is College Football Halftime?

A college football halftime lasts for 20 minutes.  It has been a point of emphasis in college football to make sure that halftimes are not extended past 20 minutes to keep the overall length of games from getting out of hand. 

Why Does College Football Last Longer Than NFL?

There are several reasons why college football games on average last longer than NFL games:

First Downs – In college football, when a first down is gained the game clock stops until the ball is set by the referee.  In the NFL, first downs do not stop the game clock.  This is the main reason college football games are on average longer than NFL games.

Halftime – College football halftime is 20 minutes versus an NFL halftime which is only 13 minutes and 30 seconds.  This adds nearly 7 minutes to the length of college football in comparison to the NFL. 

More Scoring – College football produces a lot more points than the NFL.  More scores equal more extra points (untimed downs) and more kickoffs (potentially untimed down) and more commercial breaks.  This lengthens the game.

How Long Is A High School Football Game?

High school football games typically last between two hours and two and a half hours.  They consist of four 12-minute quarters with a halftime in between the second and third quarter.   

The state of Massachusetts uses 11-minute quarters during the regular season and 10-minute quarters in the playoffs.  They are the lone exception to the standard 12-minute quarter length. 

The average length of a high school football game is very hard to nail down.  Across the United States there are many different types of classes of high school football, all with varying levels of talent and styles of play.  In general, you can expect a high school football game to be shorter in length than a college football game and an NFL game. 

If you are heading to a high school game, although the average game length is typically between two and two and a half hours, be prepared for exceptions because many states use a mercy rule which may cause the game to be much shorter.

What Is A Mercy Rule?

A mercy rule comes into play in high school football when a predetermined scoring margin is reached at halftime or at any point in the game after halftime (for example, one team is ahead 63-0 at halftime). 

Typically, this results in either a) the game ending at that point or b) the game continuing on with a game clock that never stops (in attempt to end the game quicker).  Mercy rules greatly reduces the overall length of a game.  Currently, 36 states have some form of mercy rule in high school football.

How Long Is A High School Football Halftime?

High school football halftimes typically last 10-20 minutes.  The length will vary depending on state.  There will be exceptions to this because high school football games are not as formal as college football and the NFL. 

What Time Do High School Football Games Start?

High school football games usually start at 7pm local time.  They are almost always played on Friday nights. 

How Long is a Junior Varsity Football Game?

Junior Varsity game will be shorter than varsity football games as they are typically played with only 10-minute quarters and 10-minute halftimes.  This will vary depending on state also.  The average length of a junior varsity game is likely two hours or shorter. 

How Long Is A Youth Football Game?

You can expect a youth football game to last between an hour and an hour and a half.  Typically, they consist of four 8-minute quarters separated with a 10-minute halftime.  Some advanced youth leagues may use 10-minute quarters.  There is usually a very short break in between the quarters that may last a minute or two. 

Rules vary across youth leagues.  Some leagues implement a mercy rule while others do not.  Most youth leagues allow each team three timeouts per half. 

How Long is a Canadian Football League Game?

Canadian Football Games are approximately three hours in length.  They consist of four 15-minute quarters with a 14-minute halftime.  Canadian Football does not use a running game clock therefore the overall game flow of a CFL game is relatively similar to the flow of an NFL game (although there are several rule differences). 

How Long Is an Arena Football Game?

Arena football games typically last about 2 hours.  They consist of four 15-minute quarters separated by a 15-minute halftime.  They do not last as long as NFL games because they use a modified running game clock that only stops for certain situations like a player injury, timeout, or change of possession.  The only exception is the last minute of the second quarter and the last minute of the fourth quarter, where regular football clock management rules apply.

Paul Johnson

Paul has been with us from our beginnings. He focuses on a wide range of sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB and golf.

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