Running out the clock

Running out the clock

In sports, running out the clock refers to the practice of a winning team allowing the clock to expire through a series of pre-selected plays, either to preserve a lead or hasten the end of a one-sided contest.

American football

In American football, a 15-minute game clock is used in each quarter of a game. In both college football and professional football, the game clock stops when an incomplete pass is thrown or if a player in possession of the ball steps out of the field of play. A team in possession of the lead and the ball will attempt to use up as much of the game clock as possible in order to bring the game to an end more quickly, thus denying the opposition another chance on offense.

Typically, the leading team will execute a series of simple rushing plays (the clock does not stop moving at the conclusion of a rushing play) or one or more quarterback kneels. A team will often accept a loss of yardage in order to drain more time from the game clock, as time elapsed is considered more valuable than yardage to a team with the lead. Passing plays are not typically used by a team running out the clock, as an incomplete pass will cause the game clock to stop. If the ball passes out of bounds, the clock will also stop. This leads to teams running plays in the middle of the field in order to minimize the chance that the ball will travel out of bounds.

In both professional and, since the 2008–2009 season, college football, the offense has 40 seconds from the end of the previous play to run the next play. A team running out the clock will allow the play clock (which records the time remaining until a play must be run) to drain as much as possible before running its next play.


In basketball, teams that are in the lead frequently use a lead protection offense in the late stages of a game - that is, go into a "stall" mode by holding the ball and passing sporadically. At levels where a shot clock is used, teams will take shots only if the clock is nearing zero. If the game is still somewhat competitive, the trailing team will foul the player with the ball to stop the clock and send him or her to the free throw line in hopes of regaining possession, even if it means the other team will score points.

Australian rules football

In Australian Rules Football players will run the clock down by kicking the ball between the defenders while having no intention of a forward thrust. It can be stifled by strategically playing man on man but defenders will often get free for a mark behind the play deep in their own 50m area. In an attempt to limit the effectiveness of this strategy the rule makers have declared that during the AFL pre season competition receiving a kick that was kicked by as team mate backwards will be deemed play on instead of a mark.


A similar pattern of play can occur towards the end of football (soccer) matches, with a team protecting a lead by retaining possession, standing on or crowding around a stationary ball, and generally trying to prevent the other team from gaining possession. Tactics like these are seen as unsporting in soccer; since 1994, the soccer world governing body FIFA has outlawed teams attempting to use stalling tactics (such as passing the ball back to the goalkeeper), and referees may yellow card any player they feel is excessively trying to kill the game and run out the clock.

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