Running out the clock

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In sports strategy, running out the clock (also known as running down the clock, stonewalling, killing the clock, chewing the clock, stalling, time-wasting (or timewasting) or eating clock [1] ) is the practice of a winning team allowing the clock to expire through a series of preselected plays, either to preserve a lead or hasten the end of a one-sided contest. Such measures expend time but do not otherwise have a tactical purpose. This is usually done by a team that is winning by a slim margin (or, occasionally, tied) near the end of a game, in order to reduce the time available for the opposing team to score. Generally, it is the opposite strategy of running up the score.


The process of running out the clock generally involves low-risk, low-event play, intending to minimize the ability of the other team to interfere or counter. As this produces unexciting sport for spectators, many rulebooks attempt to counteract this; some include a time limit for completing a play, such as a play clock or shot clock.

Approaches to running out the clock differ, particularly between sports. In some cases it is considered a normal aspect of the game, whereas in others it is considered unsporting. The term "time-wasting" has pejorative implications and is generally reserved for varieties of football. [2] In other timed sports, including basketball, gridiron football, and hockey, the more neutral term "running out the clock" is more commonly used.

Association football

Time-wasting in association football consists of two forms, extending the length of stoppages when the ball is out of play, and, while the ball is in play, playing in a way as to keep possession of the ball as long as possible rather than attempting to score.

Extending the length of stoppages

A common time-wasting tactic is to make substitutions late in the game, lengthening the duration of stoppages while the change is made. Players may also feign injury, kick the ball away, obstruct the taking of a quick free kick by an opposing player, or delay the taking of their own free kicks or throw ins. If the referee considers a delay to be unreasonable, the offending player may be given a yellow card.

When playing at home, there have been some instances where teams have been accused of time-wasting by instructing (or allowing) their ball boys to delay returning the ball to the away team. [3] [4] [5]

These actions should, in theory, be negated by the addition of an equal amount of stoppage time, but teams nevertheless employ these methods.

Maintaining possession

A common tactic often involves carrying the ball into the corner of the field and shielding it from the defender. This will commonly lead to a free kick if the frustrated defender budges the player out of the way, or it can also lead to a throw-in by the defender placing a tackle and managing to legally make contact with the ball so close to the line it often rolls out of play. This can be repeated to continue time-wasting.

Laws of the Game

Both types of time-wasting are generally viewed negatively, though only the former is contrary to the game's rules. Referees are empowered to book players whom they feel are delaying the restart of play and several amendments to the Laws of the Game and guidance to match officials have been made to prevent time-wasting, [6] including progressively stricter restrictions on how long possession can be maintained by goalkeepers. [7] The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 in order to prevent time-wasting by defenders repeatedly passing the ball back to their goalkeeper.

An amendment to the Laws attempting to mitigate time-wasting substitutions was made in 2019 — players are now required to leave the pitch at the nearest boundary, rather than making an often long and slow walk back to their teams' technical area. [8]

Australian rules football

In a close game, Australian rules football players on the leading side will typically 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.

Late in a close game, players who have marked the ball will often attend to their uniforms by performing actions such as tucking in jerseys or pulling their socks up, along with overzealous stretching, in an effort to "milk" the clock and disguise their intentions as an act of plausible deniability. Players kicking for goal are now given a shot clock 30 seconds to take their kicks, while in general play they are only given 7 seconds, after which "play on" is called. According to the laws, wasting time is either (a) a free kick to the opposing team (15.10.1.a), (b) a 50-metre penalty (18.1.b), or (c) a reportable offence if it is judged to be intentional, reckless or negligent (19.2.2.g.iv). In reality, though, the umpire will almost always call play on—even if the time on the 30-second shot clock has been depleted. [9] Shot clocks are disregarded for kicks after the siren.

It is also important to mention that Australian rules football has a scoring concept known as "rushing a behind". A rushed behind scores one point for the attacking team, but it also prevents the attacking team from scoring a goal, worth six points. As such, it is common for a defending player to deliberately concede a single point. However, while such a tactic was accepted in general play as being part of the game, the tactic was exploited to an extreme degree in two high-profile incidents during the 2008 AFL season to take valuable time off the clock and deny the trailing team any chance of winning. In Round 16, Richmond's Joel Bowden rushed two behinds in a row while kicking in to use up time towards the end of their game against Essendon, reducing the margin from 6 points to 4 points but enabling Richmond to win the game. [10] [11] This tactic was exploited to an absurd degree in the 2008 AFL Grand Final, which saw Hawthorn rush a record 11 behinds against Geelong. [12] [13] [14]

Since 2009, it has been illegal in AFL matches for a defender to deliberately concede a rushed behind when he is not under any pressure from the attacking team. In the event that a defender does this, the umpire awards a free kick to the attacking team on the goal-line at the spot where the defender conceded the score. The defender may still deliberately concede a rushed behind if he is under pressure from an attacker.


Unlike many other sports, baseball does not have a game clock, although some aspects of the game do have time limits, most notably the pitch clock adopted by Major League Baseball (MLB) starting with the 2023 season. Despite the absence of a game clock, stalling tactics have been used in baseball. In games that were played before the advent of stadium lighting or were subject to a relatively early curfew, losing teams would sometimes waste time in the hopes that darkness or curfew would come before the game was declared official—a baseball game scheduled for nine innings is not official until five innings have been completed, or 4+12 innings if the home team is winning. For most of baseball history, games ended before becoming official were re-played from the beginning at a later date, thus giving a losing team incentive to waste time under some circumstances. Such deliberate attempts to slow down play are subject to a forfeit being declared. The most recent major-league example occurred on July 18, 1954, when the St. Louis Cardinals were assessed a forfeit after wasting time while losing to the Philadelphia Phillies. [15]


A backboard assembly displaying the shot clock in red (8 seconds) and game clock in white (11.8 seconds) Shot clock (red) and game clock (white) in a basketball game.JPG
A backboard assembly displaying the shot clock in red (8 seconds) and game clock in white (11.8 seconds)

In basketball games, the 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 National Basketball Association (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 stalling, a "delay offense", or more colloquially, "stall ball". The only hope for the defense was to attempt to steal the ball (which could give the offense opportunities to score an easy basket) or commit fouls and hope that the fouled team would miss free throws.

Two notable examples of stalling occurred during the 1950–51 NBA season. The first was a November 1950 game with a final score of 19–18. [16] The second, played in January 1951, had six overtime periods with only a single shot attempted in each. [17] The NBA responded to these problems when Danny Biasone invented the shot clock, which was instituted for the 1954–55 NBA season. The NBA's shot clock gives teams 24 seconds to make a shot that hits the basket rim or scores, with the team losing possession if it fails to do so. This effectively eliminated stalling and, as once noted on the NBA's website, "accomplished nothing less than the salvation of pro basketball." [18]

Today, shot clocks are used in nearly all basketball leagues, although the duration varies (for example, 30 seconds in NCAA college basketball). One notable exception is high school basketball in the United States; as of 2017, the shot clock was only used in high school basketball in eight U.S. states. [19] The use of the shot clock in high school basketball can vary by state or league, and stalling tactics (such as the four corners offense) may be used as an offensive strategy if circumstances call for it, though some state athletic associations or game referees can prohibit it as an unsportsmanlike act.

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. A team trailing by a small margin near the end of regulation or overtime may counter their opponent's attempt to run out the clock by intentionally committing personal fouls while on defense. This stops the clock, and if the fouling team is in the penalty situation, it forces the fouled team to shoot free throws (usually two). The fouling team will regain possession without any additional clock time lost if the last free throw is successful or if they get the rebound from a missed last free throw, but this strategy carries the obvious risk of giving the fouled team an opportunity to extend its lead if it makes the free throw(s). Fouls intentionally committed in this way are usually tolerated with no penalty beyond the normal penalties assessed for personal fouls, as long as the fouls are not flagrant. Alternate basketball rules, such as the Elam Ending, have been proposed to minimize intentional fouling at the end of games.

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 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.

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, 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 10 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. [20]

Alternatively in Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season, a similar situation occurred where the Atlanta Falcons were trailing the Detroit Lions, who had no more timeouts, 14-16 with 1:12 left in the game and were at the Detroit ten-yard line. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was planning to hand the ball off to running back Todd Gurley so Gurley could fall down in bounds short of the goal line in order for the Falcons to run out the clock and kick a game-winning field goal as time expired, with Ryan literally telling Gurley “don’t score” in the huddle. However on the next play, Gurley rushed up the middle for ten yards and tried to go down at the one yard line, but with no Detroit defenders even trying to stop him short, accidentally broke the plane in the process, giving the Falcons an unintentional touchdown with 1:04 left on the clock. The Falcons subsequently opted for a two-point conversion, which was successful with a pass to wide receiver Calvin Ridley, putting the Falcons ahead 22-16, but with over a minute left on the clock for the Lions to try to win the game with a touchdown and a successful extra point. Quarterback Matthew Stafford then led Detroit on a 75-yard drive in 8 plays all the way down the field, culminating with an 11-yard pass to tight end TJ Hockenson to tie the game as time expired, and kicker Matt Prater kicking the game-winning extra point to give the Lions a narrow 23-22 win.

Canadian football

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

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. The Canadian Football League is proud of this distinction, with "no lead is safe" being one of the league's catchphrases. [21]

Ice hockey

An ice hockey 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. A leading team may pass the puck to the defense who will then retreat in his zone. During a power play, the shorthanded team will try to ice the puck in order to gain time until the penalty time ends.


In lacrosse, once a team gains possession in its own end, it must advance the ball from its defensive square to the midfield line within 20 seconds (a time period that runs whether they possess the ball or it becomes loose, ending only if the other team regains possession, play is stopped for any other reason or an official calls a play-on after seeing a technical foul that does not immediately disadvantage the fouled team) and then into the offensive square within 10 additional seconds (although the loose ball only need touch the ground within the box to satisfy that requirement) 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. The NCAA, Premier Lacrosse League and most forms of indoor lacrosse also employ a shot clock as with basketball.

Rugby league

In the National Rugby League (rugby league), anti-time wasting measures include countdown clocks to achieve timely formations of the scrum and execution of line drop-outs, [22] calling of time-off during the last five minutes of the match when a try has been scored, or when a conversion attempt runs longer than 80 seconds. [23]

Rugby union

In rugby union, it often takes place by one team deliberately collapsing a scrum. The penalty is a free kick, as it is considered a technical offence.

Water polo

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

See also

Related Research Articles

In basketball, a technical foul is any infraction of the rules penalized as a foul which does not involve physical contact during the course of play between opposing players on the court, or is a foul by a non-player. The most common technical foul is for unsportsmanlike conduct. Technical fouls can be assessed against players, bench personnel, the entire team, or even the crowd. These fouls, and their penalties, are more serious than a personal foul, but not necessarily as serious as a flagrant foul.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shot clock</span> Clock used for pace of play in sports

A shot clock is a countdown timer used in a variety of games and sports, indicating a set amount of time that a team may possess the object of play before attempting to score a goal. Shot clocks are used in several sports including basketball, water polo, canoe polo, lacrosse, poker, ringette, korfball, tennis, ten-pin bowling, and various cue sports. It is analogous with the play clock used in American and Canadian football, and the pitch clock used in baseball. This article deals chiefly with the shot clock used in basketball.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free throw</span> Penalty in basketball

In basketball, free throws or foul shots are unopposed attempts to score points by shooting from behind the free-throw line, a line situated at the end of the restricted area. Free throws are generally awarded after a foul on the shooter by the opposing team, analogous to penalty shots in other team sports. Free throws are also awarded in other situations, including technical fouls, and when the fouling team has entered the bonus/penalty situation. Also, depending on the situation, a player may be awarded between one and three free throws. Each successful free throw is worth one point.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Personal foul (basketball)</span> Illegal contact with an opponent in basketball

In basketball, a personal foul is a breach of the rules that concerns illegal personal contact with an opponent. It is the most common type of foul in basketball. A player fouls out on reaching a limit on personal fouls for the game and is disqualified from participation in the remainder of the game.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Streetball</span> Variation of basketball

Streetball is a variation of basketball, typically played on outdoor courts and featuring significantly less formal structure and enforcement of the game's rules. As such, its format is more conducive to allowing players to publicly showcase their own individual skills. Streetball may also refer to other urban sports played on asphalt. It is particularly popular and important in New York City and Los Angeles, though its popularity has spread across the United States due to the game's adaptability.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Comparison of American and Canadian football</span> Differences between the two most common types of gridiron football

American and Canadian football are gridiron codes of football that are very similar; both have their origins partly in rugby football, but some key differences exist between the two codes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Time-out (sport)</span> Intentional delay in sports

In sports, a time-out or timeout is a halt in the play. This allows the coaches of either team to communicate with the team, e.g., to determine strategy or inspire morale, as well as to stop the game clock. Time-outs are usually called by coaches or players, although for some sports, TV timeouts are called to allow media to air commercial breaks. Teams usually call timeouts at strategically important points in the match, or to avoid the team being called for a delay of game-type violation, such as the five-second rule in basketball.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American football rules</span>

Gameplay in American football consists of a series of downs, individual plays of short duration, outside of which the ball is or is not in play. These can be plays from scrimmage – passes, runs, punts or field goal attempts – or free kicks such as kickoffs and fair catch kicks. Substitutions can be made between downs, which allows for a great deal of specialization as coaches choose the players best suited for each particular situation. During a play, each team should have no more than 11 players on the field, and each of them has specific tasks assigned for that specific play.

In gridiron football, clock management is an aspect of game strategy that focuses on the game clock and/or play clock to achieve a desired result, typically near the end of a match. Depending on the game situation, clock management may entail playing in a manner that either slows or quickens the time elapsed from the game clock, to either extend the match or hasten its end. When the desired outcome is to end the match quicker, it is analogous to "running out the clock" seen in many sports. Clock management strategies are a significant part of American football, where an elaborate set of rules dictates when the game clock stops between downs, and when it continues to run.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rules of basketball</span> Rules governing the game of basketball

The rules of basketball are the rules and regulations that govern the play, officiating, equipment and procedures of basketball. While many of the basic rules are uniform throughout the world, variations do exist. Most leagues or governing bodies in North America, the most important of which are the National Basketball Association and NCAA, formulate their own rules. In addition, the Technical Commission of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) determines rules for international play; most leagues outside North America use the complete FIBA ruleset.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of basketball terms</span> List of definitions of terms and concepts related to the game of basketball

This glossary of basketball terms is a list of definitions of terms used in the game of basketball. Like any other major sport, basketball features its own extensive vocabulary of unique words and phrases used by players, coaches, sports journalists, commentators, and fans.

The following terms are used in water polo. Rules below reflect the latest FINA Water Polo Rules.

Delay of game is an action in a sports game in which a player or team deliberately stalls the game, usually with the intention of using the delay to its advantage. In some sports, the delay of game is considered an infraction if it is longer than that permitted according to the game's rules, in which case a penalty can be issued. Some sports that have a delay of game penalty are American football, Canadian football, ice hockey and association football.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Key (basketball)</span> Area on a basketball court

The key, officially referred to as the free throw lane by the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and the restricted area by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), is a marked area on a basketball court surrounding the basket, where much of the game's action takes place.

The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.

Basketball is a ball game and team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules. Since being developed by James Naismith as a non-contact game that almost anyone can play, basketball has undergone many different rule variations, eventually evolving into the NBA-style game known today. Basketball is one of the most popular and widely viewed sports in the world.

In sports that use a clock, untimed play is play in which the clock does not tick. In some cases, untimed play can occur at the end of a game following the expiration of the clock, and may even be when a score occurs that decides the outcome of the game.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Possession (sports)</span> Control of a ball or implement of play by a sports team

In sports, possession is physical control of the ball or other implement of play by one team, which typically gives that team the opportunity to score. Sports have different rules governing how possession is kept or lost, which affect the strategy of gameplay. The number of possessions or total time of possession are often useful statistics of team or individual performance.

The 2018 Saint Francis Cougars football team represented the University of Saint Francis, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the 2018 NAIA football season. They were led by head coach Kevin Donley, who served in his 21st year as the first and only head coach in the history of Saint Francis football. The Cougars play their home games at Bishop John M. D'Arcy Stadium as members of the Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) Mideast League (MEL). The Cougars entered the season as back-to-back, two-time defending national champions.


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