Running out the clock

In sports, running out the clock (also known as running down the clock, stonewalling, killing the clock, chewing the clock, stalling, or eating clock[1]) is 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. Generally, it is the opposite strategy of running up the score. Most leagues take steps to prevent teams from doing this, with the most common measure being a time limit for completing a play, such as a play clock or shot clock.

Gridiron football

American football

In American football, each quarter of a game is measured with a 15-minute game clock, or 12-minute clock in many high school football codes and the German Football League. 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 unless the rusher steps out of bounds) or one or more quarterback kneels. A team will often accept minimal prospect for a large gain in yardage (or even, particularly with quarterback kneels, a modest 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. Passing plays always carry the risk of interception, and spread the offense widely across the field, which makes tackling after an interception much harder compared to a fumble. 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. Running plays also carry a much lower chance of turning the ball over and of a turnover resulting in a score or significant gain for the defense. Relatively safe, short, West Coast offense-type passes can be, and sometimes are, included in attempts to run out the clock, especially if more yardage is needed to earn a first down and maintain possession.

In both professional and college football, the offense has 40 seconds (in the Alliance of American Football, 30) 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 the NFL, this is particularly noteworthy due to the existence of the two-minute warning. If the trailing team has no timeouts remaining and the leading team is in possession of the ball with a first down at the two-minute warning, they can effectively run out the clock and win the game without running another positive play. With two minutes to go (120 seconds), the offense can take three "knees", one each on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down (using all 40 seconds from the play clock on each), and allow the game clock to expire before having to run a play for fourth down. A similar situation can be had by also achieving a first down inside the two-minute warning. This practice is commonly known as the "Victory Formation", as the offense lines up in a tightly-protective "V" formation to minimize the chances of a fumble or other turnover. (The AAF lets teams run out the clock on three straight victory formations from 90 seconds left in regulation.)

Conversely, a team that faces the risk of the other team running out the clock may attempt to force its opponent to score so it can quickly get the ball back. In Super Bowl XLVI, for example, the New England Patriots were ahead of the New York Giants 17–15 with 1:04 left in the fourth quarter. The Giants were at the Patriots' six-yard line, however, and the Patriots had only one time-out left. The Giants elected to run out as much time as possible and then kick a relatively short field goal to take a late lead. Had the Giants been successful in this strategy it would have left the Patriots with no timeouts and less than 20 seconds remaining to score. The Patriots thus let Ahmad Bradshaw score a touchdown in hopes of scoring a touchdown of their own before the game's end. Bradshaw, aware of the Patriots' strategy, attempted to stop himself from crossing the goal line but was unsuccessful as his momentum carried him forward. The Patriots then received the ball with 57 seconds remaining, but failed to score, and the Giants won 21–17.[2]

Canadian football

Rule differences between the two codes mean than in Canadian football running out the clock is much more limited. The specific differences are:

  • The offensive team is only allowed three downs to advance the ball 10 yards and thereby maintain possession, as opposed to four downs in the American game.
  • The play clock runs for only 20 seconds from the time the ball is whistled into play, compared to 40 seconds from the end of the last play in U.S. college football and the NFL.
  • Two major changes in game timing occur in the last 3 minutes of each half:
    • The clock stops after each play.
    • The penalty for "time count" (equivalent to "delay of game" in American football) is loss of down on first or second down, and 10 yards on third down with the down repeated. The referee has the right to penalize repeated third-down time counts during the last 3 minutes with loss of possession.
  • Finally, if the game clock runs out during a play, or while the ball is dead, the quarter is extended by one final untimed play.

A Canadian football side on offense with a full set of downs can run just over 40 seconds off the game clock, a third of what is possible in American football.

Association football

A similar pattern of play can occur towards the end of association football matches, with a team protecting a lead by retaining possession, standing on or crowding around a stationary ball (particularly in the vicinity of the other team's corner flag), and generally trying to prevent the other team from gaining possession. Tactics like these are seen as unsporting in football; world governing body FIFA has attempted to outlaw teams using stalling tactics (most notably the back-pass rule, introduced in 1992, which forbids the goalkeeper using his hands to pick up a pass from a teammate), and referees may show a yellow card to any player they feel is excessively trying to kill the game and run out the clock.

Australian rules football

In a close game, Australian rules football players will run the clock down by kicking the ball between the defenders while having no intention of a forward thrust, or by advancing the ball with short, low-risk kicks. Each time a mark is taken, the player can run approximately eight seconds off the clock before being required to play on – and may continue to run time off the clock if no opponents pressure them after the call of play on is made. Strategically, running down the clock can be stifled by playing man-on-man defence, in an attempt to force the opposition to kick to a contest, creating the chance for a turnover.


In basketball game clock stops when the ball is dead and runs when it is live.

Running out the clock was a major problem in the early days of the NBA. Often, once a team grabbed the lead, they would spend the remainder of the game just passing the ball back and forth, in what was called stall ball. The only hope for the other team was to commit fouls and to score on free throws. The worst example was a 1950 game with a final score of 19-18. Another game the same year had six overtime periods with only a single shot attempted.

The NBA responded to these problems when Danny Biasone invented the shot clock. This required a team that gets possession of the ball 24 seconds to make a shot at the basket. This effectively eliminated stall ball and in the NBA's own words, "Biasone's invention rescue[d] the league."[3] Today, shot clocks are used in nearly all basketball leagues.

Most clock management in modern basketball centers around both the game clock and the shot clock. An offense nearing the end of a game and holding a slim lead will attempt to use up as much of both clocks as possible before shooting the ball to give the opposing team as little time as possible to respond.

To combat this, defenses routinely commit intentional personal fouls by making contact with the person in possession of the ball, immediately forcing them to take free throws and stopping the game clock (when the player being fouled is a known poor free throw shooter, this strategy is known as hack-a-Shaq); once the free throws are taken, the fouling team then gets possession of the ball. The defensive team thus gets the ball back sooner by committing the foul than they would by playing clean and allowing the offense to run out the clock.

Other sports


A game clock is used to prevent players from overly delaying the game.


A team must advance the ball from its defensive square to the midfield line within 20 seconds and then into the offensive square within 10 additional seconds or lose possession; additionally, a team in possession that appears to be Stonewalling by not attacking the goal may be ordered by the referee to stay within the attacking box or lose possession. Additionally, Major League Lacrosse and most forms of indoor lacrosse employ a shot clock as with basketball.

Ice hockey

A team which shoots the puck forward from their half of the ice over the opposing team's goal line in an effort to stonewall is guilty of icing, and the puck is brought to the other end of the ice for a face-off. The rule is not in effect when a team is playing shorthanded due to a penalty. Additionally, a player (usually a goalkeeper) may be charged with a minor (two-minute) penalty for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass and out of play.

Water polo

A 30-second shot clock is employed, in much the same manner as college basketball.


Tournaments often use hand-for-hand play at key points in the tournament to discourage stalling. Also, any player may "call the clock" on another player if he takes too long with a decision. This gives that player one minute to make his decision; if he does not act, his hand is declared dead.

See also


  1. Davis, Terrell (2014-02-03). "Seattle Seahawks need to eat clock". Channel 4. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
  2. Posnanski, Joe (2012-02-06). "Bradshaw's Reluctant Touchdown puts to rest an unusual Super Bowl". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
  3. "1954–55 SEASON OVERVIEW" NBA.
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