How Long Is a College Football Game? (NCAA)

Are you hosting a college football game watch party? Do you know how long a college football game is? In this article, I’m going to focus on how long a college football game is and what makes up the total duration. 

How long is a college football game? From the 2018-2019 NCAA season, an average college football game lasts about three hours and 15 minutes. Like the NFL, college football games are divided into four 15-minute quarters.

Also like an NFL game, there is little time spent during the active plays. There are only around 15 minutes of active play in an average college football game. Most of the time, you will be watching the host talking about the game for about two hours. You will also watch coaches and referees standing, walking, and arguing. TV commercials also consume about one hour of the show. 

Read on to know how long college football games last and what makes up the total duration.

How Long Is a College Football Game?

American College football in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is the second most-watched sport in America, second only to the NFL.

How long do college football games last? On average, college football games last around three hours and 15 minutes. But it doesn’t mean that the players are kicking, running, passing, and intercepting the ball for that length of time. Each play only lasts no more than five seconds. The actual amount of time that the ball is in active play is only about 15 minutes.

The majority of game time is consumed in what you may call ‘non-game activities.’ The highest time consumer in a college football game is the activities on the sidelines. You will be spending two hours watching the host talking with the analysts. You will also see the coaches and referees standing, walking, and arguing.

Also, if you are watching the game on TV, you will be forced to watch about one hour of TV commercials. So, that will bring you to a total time of approximately three hours and 15 minutes. It’s the reason why many observers are saying that college football games are getting way too long.

How Many Quarters Are There in an NCAA Football Game and How Long Are They?

There are four quarters in a college football game. Each quarter is given 15 minutes. There are two quarters in the first half of the game and two quarters in the second half. The first quarter of the game ends with a three-minute breather. The second quarter follows after the breather.

The second quarter ends with a halftime break. How long is halftime in college football? Halftime break in college football is about 20 minutes. After the break, the third quarter starts. The third quarter ends with another three-minute breather. Then the fourth quarter follows.

So the halftime break in a college football game is an exact 20 minutes. There is a strict rule in college football games to maintain the 20-minute cap of halftime breaks to prevent the total length of the game from going too long.

In reality, the length of time consumed to finish one quarter in college football is slightly more than 45 minutes. That is about three times the time allotted by the rules. Out of bound balls, foul calls, and interruptions from players, coaches, and referees are some of the things that can cause the quarter time to stretch.

Teams will have another overtime if the score is still tied by the end of regulation time. There will also be a three-minute breather before the OT period begins.

College football OT is way different from the NFL OT. In the NFL, OT is designed to end the game faster. But in college football, OT is designed to give equal opportunity to score for both teams. Such design makes longer OTs in the NCAA.

How Long Are College Football Games on TV?

How long are college football games on TV? Television coverage of college football games usually takes around three hours and 26 minutes. That makes it longer than average NFL games by 16 minutes. It’s also one of the reasons why NCAA football games are longer than professional football games.

There are also more non-game events included in televised football games. One of these events is the traditional introduction of the game, which takes around five or more minutes. Moreover, there will be pregame interviews, forecast of analysts, and stats presentation.

After the game, the host will conduct a postgame interview with the winners and the losers. The guest analyst may also present his view on why the winner won and the loser lost. This postgame review may last another five or more minutes.

You will also be forced to watch TV ads before the game and when the ball is not in active play. There may be more than 20 commercials in a typical NCCA football game, and more if it is the championship match. All of these advertisements can consume more than an hour per game.

That said, expect to spend more than three hours and 30 minutes watching a college football game on TV. There could be some time variations depending on the level and intensity of the game. But it is safe to assume that the total length of the game on TV will be more than three hours.

What Are the Factors Affecting the Length of a College Football Game?

how long are college football games
How long are college football games?

1. Halftime Breaks

It is already established that college football games are a bit longer than NFL games. One of the main reasons is the longer minutes allotted to halftime breaks. In the NFL, it only takes 12 minutes. However, it takes 20 minutes in an NCAA football game.

2. Long Passing Plays

Another reason is that the clock stops counting down each time one team secures a first down. Time stops until the ball is again ready to play. In the NFL games, if there are more passing plays during the game, the overall game time will be longer. But if there are more running plays, the total game time will be shorter.

These are some of the reasons why some observers say that they have never seen a college football game that was shorter than three hours.

3. Entertainment, Ads, and Recap

On paper, a quarter in an NCAA college football is only 15 minutes. However, some observers claim that in real-time and in actual games, the average quarter in college football lasts just a bit longer than 45 minutes.

When halftime comes, fans in the stadium usually watch and hear the college bands of the two opposing teams play. This break will go on for 20 minutes. Those who are watching the game on TV will be watching a string of advertisements, or the host interviewing a sports analyst about what happened in the first half.

4. Overtime

Overtime is also one of the main reasons why NCAA football games take longer to finish. There is no sudden death style in NCAA football, unlike the NFL. When there’s an OT in college football, there is no game clock but only a play clock. That means the game could go on and on until a team scores more than its opponent.

It was in 1996 when the NCAA adopted this overtime rule. Since then, there were at least five matches that have gone to seven OTs. But in 2019, the OT rules were changed. The new rule states that when there is a fifth OT, opposing teams are required to go an alternating two-point conversion plays. Previously, they were given offensive possession starting at the 25-yard line.

Why Is College Football Longer than the NFL?

By now, you already have some ideas on why NCAA football games are longer than the NFL games. But aside from the reasons mentioned above, other things can also extend college football matches.

Due to the nature of college matches, college football teams, on average, can produce more points than those made by both NFL teams. If a team scores more, that means more extra points or untimed down. There will be more kickoffs (all potentially untimed down), and consequently, more commercial breaks. All of these factors only serve to lengthen the matches.

When there’s a first down made by a team, the game clock stops. It will only start again once the referee sets the ball again. That is a big difference with how an NFL game is played. In the NFL, there is no stopping of the game clock on first downs. Some analysts claim that it is the primary reason why NCAA football is longer than the NFL games.

College football stops the game clock for every out-of-bounds ball. The game clock also stops to move the chains for the first downs. College football games also have longer play clocks, making every stoppage of play longer. No wonder NCAA college football games are way too long.

What Is the Longest College Football Game on Record?

Arkansas Vs. Kentucky

Statistics showed that there were at least three NCAA college football games that reached seven overtimes before the games ended. The first one was in 2003 between Arkansas and Kentucky. Arkansas won the game with the final score of 71-63.

Western Michigan Vs. Buffalo

The second football match with seven overtimes was between Western Michigan and Buffalo. It was played in 2017. In the end, Western Michigan was able to beat Buffalo with a score of 71-68. But the game lasted for almost five hours. Kickoff was at 3:30 p.m., and the game ended after 8:00 p.m.

LSU Vs. Texas A&M

The third-longest NCAA football match was between LSU and Texas A&M on Nov. 24, 2018. It also ended after seven overtimes with a score of 74-72 in favor of the Aggies. The match was also the highest-scoring game in the history of FBS.

There Are Talks of Cutting the Length of College Football Games

How long does a college football game last
How long does a college football game last?

Since 2017, there are already ongoing talks about cutting short the length of college football games. Many have observed that these matches are getting very long. They say that it is not sustainable for the players, fans, and growth of the sport in the long term.

Football Bowl Subdivision games averaged around three hours and 24 minutes in 2017. Games in 2010 averaged only at three hours and 12 minutes. In 1996, the average game length was 3:01. The trend shows that college football games are getting longer than before.

Some of the recommended corrective measures are the following:

  • Cut Down TV Commercials – Statistics show that there an average of 68 30-second TV commercials shown per game.
  • Cut Down Halftime Breaks – Recommended to quicken the pace of the game. However, some argue that cutting down halftime breaks won’t provide enough rest for players to start again for the second half.
  • Cut Down Quarter Game Time – Suggested to conform to NFL quarters.
  • Running the Clock After First Downs – This recommendation can reduce game times, and gameplays. Also, this measure will be safer, given the concern about concussions. However, college football has resisted this measure for many years, saying that it would just be copying the rules of the NFL.

Surprising Statistics That Show How Long College Football Games Are Played

There are a lot of things that can happen during an NCAA college football game. Most of these things are done while the ball is out of play. These things may be related to the game but are not actually contributing to the progress of ending the game at the right time.

Based on real-time experience, the total time the football is in active play during a typical college football match is only 15 minutes. In NFL matches, it is only 11 minutes. Most of the time, the fans are just watching the referees, coaches, and players standing around.

Conclusion How Long Do College Football Games Last?

So, to recap, how long is a college football game? An average college football game in the NCAA lasts about three hours and 15 minutes. In reality, there are only around 15 minutes of active play in a typical game of college football.

Approximately two hours are allotted to the host talking about the game. You will also see coaches and referees standing, walking, and arguing. Furthermore, TV commercials usually consume one hour of the show.