Whether you’re a student, an alumni, or just a fan of college football, you know that the game tends to last longer than its schedule suggests.
If you’re heading out to the stadium, then you may wonder how long you should prepare to be there.
If you’re at home and planning a party, then you may want to know how long you should expect to play host to your friends and family.
Like the NFL, college football tends to last longer than its game clock dictates.
Here’s what you need to know about how long a college football game lasts.
How Long Is A College Football Game?
The average college football game lasts three hours and 20 minutes.
While NFL games last a long time, college football games tend to last even longer.
There are a few reasons behind this with some slight differences in college football rules compared to NFL rules being the main one.
Although college football games have a game clock of 60 minutes, you can expect to sit in the stands or watch at home for triple that amount.
Why Do College Football Games Last So Long?
Although the energy and fun of a college football game can last for a long time, everyone gets tired eventually.
You may wonder why college football games tend to last longer than NFL games.
Here are a few reasons college football games last a long time.
1. Longer Half-Time Shows
One of the main culprits behind longer game times is the half-time show.
In the NFL, half-times only last for 12 minutes.
There’s often a little time before and after the actual show, too, but the show itself can’t last longer than 12 minutes.
That isn’t the case at college football games.
The half-time show can last up to 20 minutes at a college football game.
That’s because most half-time shows at college include the marching band.
These are incredible musical displays mixing music with visual arts.
Some college teams even have drum corps that go on to compete nationally.
Now and then, a college game has a band during half-time, but usually, the field goes to the marching band.
These shows tend to last longer since a marching band performance takes time to set up, perform, and then get off of the field.
A 20-minute half-time show is practically guaranteed in that sense.
Since college games can have a longer half-time show, that’s more time added to the game.
2. Extended Overtime
Another big difference between the rules in the NFL and college football is how they handle overtime.
In the NFL, if an overtime period is needed, then an extra 10-minute quarter gets added to the game.
In overtime, the NFL uses the sudden death rule.
This means that the team which earns a touchdown first is the winner.
If neither team gets a touchdown in the 10-minute timeframe, then they declare a tie.
This isn’t the case in college football.
In college football, both teams get the chance to score a touchdown.
It doesn’t matter which team scored a touchdown first.
It’s more important that if one team gets a touchdown, then the other team gets a chance to score a touchdown, too.
If both teams manage to get a touchdown, then a tie isn’t declared.
Instead, the overtime continues.
Both teams get the ball again and try to score a touchdown.
The game only ends when one team gets a touchdown and the other doesn’t.
Considering the skills of each team, overtime in college football could last for some time.
Some viewers and fans might end up with a mini-football game inside of a football game if overtime lasts longer than a round or two.
College football games last a long time because of their overtime rules.
3. Commercial Breaks
Just like the NFL, college football also has several commercial breaks that stop the action on the field.
Some even claim that commercials are one of the primary reasons college and NFL games last as long as they do.
During Super Bowl XLIX, there were only just over 12 minutes of actual gameplay.
The rest of the time went to ads and the half-time show.
This is a trend that has hit normal games, too, albeit not quite as aggressively.
Commercials can run for as long as five to eight minutes.
With several commercial breaks slotted throughout the game, it easily extends how long the game actually lasts.
Without ads, a standard game would barely be above the two-hour mark, including half-time.
That said, it’s unlikely that networks are going to cut back on the number of ads that they show.
They may shorten the ads, but networks rely on live sports to pay the bills.
By cutting down the number of ads, they lose revenue.
With competition between networks and streaming services severe, they’re holding onto what they know will earn them money.
For fans and viewers, commercial breaks make a college football game last far longer than it should.
4. Game Clock Stops After Every First Down
Another rule that makes college football slightly different from NFL games is how they handle first downs.
When a team lands a first down, the game clock stops.
The team gets some extra time to sort themselves out and prepare for the next drive.
It also allows the defensive team to quickly discuss a strategy and stop the offensive team from further progressing.
The problem with stopping after a first down is that it takes time.
Some networks use it as an opportunity to show ads.
Some coaches call a timeout.
At the very least, stopping the game clock allows players to relax for a moment and make the game last longer.
If the game clock didn’t stop after a first down, then it would urge both teams to hurry back to the line of scrimmage and prepare for the next drive.
It would also keep networks from having an easy way to sneak in more ads.
While coaches might still call a timeout, it’s also less convenient for them.
Until the rules change, however, college football has long games because the game clock stops after a first down.
5. No Replay Time Limits
When a replay occurs in college football, there isn’t a time limit.
The referee can review the play for as long as they need to.
While this does mean that there’s likely more accurate reporting, it also adds a lot of time to the clock.
This becomes even worse when several replays and reviews occur during a game.
One way to help shorten the time of a college football game is to set a time limit on reviews.
While this might make the referee feel a bit more rushed, it also means the action on the field can continue more rapidly.
If the referee can’t decide during that time frame, then they can always say the review is inconclusive.
The NFL and college football franchises have rules for when reviews are inconclusive.
That enables the game to continue moving forward and helps speed things along.
Until such a thing occurs, reviews and replays make college football games last longer.
The NFL and college football differ in how their timeouts work.
While college football coaches each get three timeouts per half, the length of those times is what’s different.
Like in the NFL, a coach has three timeouts in the first half and three timeouts in the second half.
College football timeouts last for 90 seconds, however, while in the NFL, they last for 60 seconds.
That added extra 30 seconds can add some time to the game.
This is especially true if both teams are using all their timeouts.
Timeouts don’t stack.
If a coach doesn’t use all their timeouts in the first half, then that doesn’t mean they get added to the three that he has in the second half.
Because of that, coaches are usually pressed to use their timeouts while they can.
Some will use them to send information to their players.
Others will use them to disrupt the other team.
Some simply use them to give their players a break.
The problem with timeouts is that they often let networks run ad breaks.
What was originally a 90-second timeout becomes a five-minute ad break.
If both teams are using their timeouts throughout the game, then that’s extra ads that viewers have to watch.
Since the game can’t continue until the ad break is over, then those in the stands are also stuck waiting.
Timeouts mixed with commercial breaks cause college football games to last for a long time.
7. Number Of Plays
A final reason college football games last a long time is the number of plays they have.
Teams that pass the ball a lot and make several plays also extend the game time.
That’s because they’re able to move fast in a short amount of time.
Running the ball, on the other hand, makes the time shorter because they usually can’t move that far.
With more complete passes and more first downs, the game clock stops more often and the length of time for the game overall is longer.
This also usually means that teams end up scoring more often.
That also adds to the length of the game because then the teams have to switch sides.
It also gives the networks a chance to run ads, which adds even more time to the game.
While having teams make plays and score more points makes for a far more exciting game, it also means the game is likely going to last longer.
What Causes Delays In Football Games?
While several instances can make a game last longer once the game starts, some delays can occur before the game even starts.
These delays can result in the game starting later, which means viewers and fans will have to stick around longer to watch the end of the game.
Here are a few causes that might delay a football game.
A weather delay can occur at any point in the game.
Like the NFL, college football only delays a game due to weather if there’s lightning.
The game will continue even if it’s raining or snowing.
However, because lightning is life-threatening, they have to delay the game until the danger passes.
Due to the open field and high stadiums, lightning is a threat to fans and players alike.
The presence of water on the ground, if it’s raining, is also a danger.
If lightning strikes or emerges within a radius of a certain number of miles of the stadium, they will call a delay.
The teams go back into the locker rooms and fans either go inside the concession area or return to their cars.
Once the danger has passed, everyone returns and the game continues as usual.
2. Extreme Weather
There are some cases where extreme weather will delay a game by a few days.
This is usually when there’s a tornado or hurricane.
In these instances, a delay occurs when there’s either a scheduled weather event like a hurricane at a stadium or if the stadium has received damage due to the weather.
In some cases, they may be able to clear the field and have the game continue as normal.
In most, the teams will go to a different stadium where they’ll play instead.
The delay usually occurs for a day, or even a week, to allow the teams to arrive at a new stadium and prepare for the game.
3. Long Games On Network
A final reason that a college football game may face a delay before it starts is when another game runs into their game time.
For example, if Game A ends up lasting longer than expected, then it might continue into the time slot reserved for Game B.
As such, Game B can’t start until Game A is over.
That’s because the network has to finish covering the first game before it can start covering the second game.
If it were to just break away from the end of the game, then it’d face the wrath of its viewers.
Viewers watching the second game would also be angry if the game started before they could watch it since the network was still showing the first game.
Since college games, in particular, tend to last longer than three hours, it’s common for second games to face a delay until the previous game ends.
That then delays the entire programming on that particular network channel.
What Was The Longest College Football Overtime?
Due to college football’s rules about overtime, there have been a few games that lasted a long time.
For a long while, the record for the longest college football game was at seven overtime quarters.
The most recent team to tie that record was LSU versus Texas A&M.
In that game, which occurred in 2017, Texas managed to finally win the game after a two-point conversion netted them 74-72.
However, there was recently a game that broke the record.
In 2021, Illinois and Penn State set a new record for nine overtime quarters.
It was Illinois that finally put the game to an end with a score of 20-18.
Both teams had been unable to score touchdowns on either of their turns for most of the overtime quarters.
With an inability to break the tie, another and another overtime quarter passed.
At long last, in the ninth quarter, Illinois scored some points and Penn State was unable to respond.
The game ended and a new record was set.
How Long Is Each Quarter In College Football?
Some fans and viewers might think that because college football lasts as long as it does that it has longer quarters than the NFL.
That isn’t the case.
College football has the same quarter length as the NFL.
Their quarters are 15 minutes each.
That comes out to a game that lasts 60 minutes.
One big difference, however, is that college football also has a 20-minute half-time show while the NFL only has 12 minutes.
That makes a college football game last 80 minutes.
Any added time beyond that is likely from commercials.
College football has a notorious reputation for lasting a very long time.
Despite having a game clock of 60 minutes like the NFL, their games tend to stretch beyond the three-hour mark.
There are several reasons college football games last longer, but one of the primary reasons is the number and length of ads shown during the games.