NCAA RULE 3 Periods, Time Factors and Substitutions

SECTION 3. Timeouts: Starting and Stopping the Clock


ARTICLE 1. Timeout




  1. An official shall signal timeout when the rules provide for stopping the clock or when a timeout is charged to a team or to the referee. Other officials should repeat timeout signals. The referee may declare and charge himself with a discretionary timeout for any contingency not elsewhere covered by the rules. (A.R. 3-3-1:IV)

  2. When a team’s charged timeouts are exhausted and it requests a timeout, the officials shall not acknowledge the request (Rule 3-3-4).

  3. Once the game begins, players shall not practice with a ball on the field of play or the end zones except during the half-time intermission.

Approved ruling 3-3-1


  1. On third and 2½, A45 fumbles a live ball after gaining three yards. The officials cannot determine who has recovered the fumble, so the line judge signals the clock to stop while the ball is being located. A45 is found to be in possession of the ball and (a) has not made his line to gain or (b) has made his line to gain. RULING: The 40-second clock starts when the ball is declared dead. (a) The referee immediately will signal the game clock to start. (b) The game clock will start on the referee’s signal when the ball is ready for play.
  2. On second and 14, A45 gains six yards and is downed with the ball in his possession. The linesman, mistaking the back stake of the line-to-gain chain for the front stake, erroneously signals the clock to stop. RULING: As soon as the error is detected by any official, the signal to start the clock shall be given by the game official detecting the error.
  3. Team A fumbles or the ball is loose after a backward pass. Several players dive on the ball, creating a “pile”. RULING: The covering official(s) shall stop the clock and the 40-second clock shall start. Upon positive knowledge of who recovered, the referee will point in the direction governed by possession and start the game clock (a) immediately if Team A has recovered short of the line to gain (no first down), or (b) on the snap if Team B has recovered. [Cited by 3-3-2-e-8]
  4. A shoelace, padlace, jersey, number or equipment breaks or tears. RULING: No referee’s discretionary timeout permitted for repair or replacement. [Cited by 3-3-1-a]

ARTICLE 2. Starting and Stopping the Clock



  1. Free Kick. After the ball is free-kicked, the game clock shall be started on an official’s signal when the ball is legally touched in the field of play, or when it crosses the goal line after being touched legally by Team B in its end zone. It is subsequently stopped on an official’s signal when the ball is dead by rule. (A.R. 3-3-2:VII)

  2. Scrimmage Down. When a period begins with a scrimmage down, the game clock shall be started when the ball is legally snapped. On all other scrimmage downs, the game clock shall be started when the ball is legally snapped (Rule 3-3-2-d) or on a prior signal by the referee (Rule 3-3-2-e). The game clock shall not run during a try, during an extension of a period or during an extra period. (A.R. 3-3-2:I-IV)

  3. After a Score. The game clock shall stop on an official’s signal after a touchdown, field goal or safety. It shall be started again as in (a) above unless an accepted penalty erases the score or the down is repeated, in which case it shall be started when the ball is legally snapped.

  4. Starts on the Snap. For each of the following, the game clock is stopped on an official’s signal. If the next play begins with a snap, the game clock will start on the snap:

    1. Touchback (provided Team B will next snap the ball).

    2. With fewer than two minutes remaining in a half a Team A ball carrier, fumble or backward pass is ruled out of bounds. (Exception: After a Team A forward fumble goes out of bounds, the clock starts on the referee’s signal.)

    3. Team B is awarded a first down and will next snap the ball. (A.R. 3-3-2:V)

    4. A forward pass is ruled incomplete.

    5. A team is granted a charged timeout.

    6. The ball becomes illegal.

    7. Violation of a rule for mandatory equipment (Rule 1-4-4) or illegal equipment (Rule 1-4-7).

    8. A legal kick down ends. (A.R. 3-3-2:VI)

    9. A return kick is made.

    10. A scrimmage kick is made beyond the neutral zone.

    11. Team A commits a delay-of-game foul while in a scrimmage kick formation.

    12. A period ends.

  5. Starts on the Referee’s Signal. For each of the following reasons, the game clock is stopped on an official’s signal. If the next play begins with a snap, the game clock will start on the referee’s signal:

    1. Team A is awarded a first down, either through play or by penalty.

    2. A Team A forward fumble goes out of bounds.

    3. Other than with fewer than two minutes remaining in a half, a Team A ball carrier, fumble or backward pass is ruled out of bounds.

    4. To complete a penalty (Exception: Rule 3-4-5-b).

    5. An injury timeout is allowed for one or more players or an official. (A.R. 3-3-5:I-V)

    6. An inadvertent whistle is sounded.

    7. A possible first-down measurement.

    8. Both teams cause a delay in making the ball ready for play. (A.R. 3-3-1:III)

    9. A live ball comes into possession of an official.

    10. A head coach requests a conference or challenges an instant-replay decision.

    11. The referee grants a media timeout.

    12. The referee declares a discretionary timeout.

    13. The referee declares a timeout for unfair noise (Rule 9-2-1-b-5).

    14. An illegal pass is thrown to conserve time (A.R. 7-3-2:II-VII) (Exception: Rule 3-4-5-b).

    15. The referee interrupts the 40/25-second count.

    16. A player’s helmet comes completely off through play.

    17. When either team commits a dead-ball foul.
    18. Violation of a rule for mandatory equipment (Rule 1-4-4) or illegal equipment (Rule 1-4-7).

  6. Snap Supercedes Referee’s Signal. Whenever one or more incidents that cause the game clock to be started on the referee’s signal (Rule 3-3-2-e) occur in conjunction with any that cause it to be started on the snap (Rules 3-3-2-c and 3-3-2-d), it shall be started on the snap. (Exception: Rule 3-4-4 (10-second runoff) supersedes this rule. (A.R. 3-3-2-VIII and -IX))

  7. If the running clock rule applies, the clock will always be started on the ready for play rather than the snap. (Exception: The clock starts by normal rule on the free kick or snap following the play in which the relevant score margin is reached.) (A.R. 3-3-2:X-XI)

Approved ruling 3-3-2


  1. Fourth and six. Team A’s running play, which ends inbounds, gains (a) eight yards or (b) five yards. B1 is offside during the play. RULING: (a) Team A’s ball. First and 10. The clock starts on the referee’s signal. (b) Team A’s ball. Fourth and one. The clock starts on the referee’s signal. (Rules 3-3-2-e-1 and 3-3-2-e-4) [Cited by 3-3-2-b]

  2. Fourth and four. Team A’s running play, which ends inbounds, gains (a) six yards or (b) three yards. B1 is offside during the play. RULING: (a) Team A’s ball. First and 10. The clock starts on the referee’s signal. (b) Team A’s ball. First and 10 after accepting the penalty. The clock starts on the referee’s signal. [Cited by 3-3-2-b]

  3. Third and four. Team A’s pass is intercepted by B1, who is downed inbounds. B2 was offside during the play. RULING: Team A’s ball. First and 10. The clock starts on the referee’s signal. Although the clock was stopped to award Team B a first down, Team B will not next snap the ball. [Cited by 3-3-2-b]

  4. Late in the second or fourth quarter, ball carrier A37 goes out of bounds. When the game clock is stopped it reads (a) 2:00 or (b) 1:59. RULING: (a) If there is a two-minute warning, the game clock will start on the snap. Otherwise, the game clock starts on the referee’s signal when the ball is ready for play. (b) The game clock starts on the snap. [Cited by 3-3-2-b]

  5. Late in the second or fourth quarter, Team A has second and eight. B44 intercepts a legal forward pass and carries the ball out of bounds. B79 is in the neutral zone at the snap. When the game clock is stopped it reads (a) 2:00, or (b) 1:59. RULING: Team A accepts the penalty and retains possession of the ball. In both (a) and (b) if there is a two-minute warning, the game clock will start on the snap. Otherwise, the game clock starts on the referee’s signal, because Team B will not next snap the ball. [Cited by 3-3-2-d-3]

  6. Fourth and eight at the A-12, late in the fourth quarter. The punt is blocked and the ball does not cross the neutral zone. At the A-10, back A22 recovers the ball and throws a forward pass to eligible A88 who is tackled at the B-3. The game clock reads 0:03. RULING: Team A’s ball at the B-3, first and goal. The game clock starts on the snap because of the legal kick play. (Rules 3-3-2-d-8, 3-3-2-e-1, 3-3-2-f) [Cited by 3-3-2-d-8]

  7. Team A kicks off to start the game and the kick receiver (a) makes a fair catch; (b) first touches the ball when he recovers it with his knee on the ground. RULING: No time runs off the clock. Team B will have first and 10 with the game clock reading 12:00. [Cited by 3-3-2-a]

ARTICLE 3. Suspending the game



  1. The referee may suspend the game temporarily when conditions warrant such action.

  2. When the game is stopped by actions of a person(s) not subject to the rules, or for any other reasons not specified in the rules, and cannot continue, the referee shall:

    1. Suspend play and direct the players to their team areas.

    2. Refer the problem to those responsible for the game’s management.

    3. Resume the game when he determines conditions are satisfactory.

  3. If a game is suspended under Rules 3-3-3-a and b before the end of the fourth period and cannot be resumed, there are four possible options:

    1. Resume the game at a later date;

    2. Terminate the game with a determined final score;

    3. Forfeit of the game; or

    4. Declare a no contest.

    5. The option that takes effect shall be determined by conference policy if both institutions are members of the same conference. In nonconference competition, the directors of athletics at the participating institutions or their designees, in consultation with the coaches, must agree on one of the four options. This agreement will include the final score if the game is terminated (Rule 8-1-2).
      In the event that the directors of athletics do not reach an agreement, the conference policy of the home team shall be used to determine the outcome.

  4. If a game is suspended under Rules 3-3-3-a and b after four periods of play and cannot be resumed, the game shall be ruled a tie. The final score shall be the score at the end of the last completed period. (Note: If a winner must be determined in a competition playoff game, competition regulations shall determine when and where the game will be resumed.)

  5. A suspended game, if resumed, will begin with the same time remaining and under the identical conditions of down, distance, field position and player eligibility.

ARTICLE 4. Charged Team Timeouts


When timeouts are not exhausted, an official shall allow a charged team timeout when requested by any player or head coach when the ball is dead.

  1. Each team is entitled to three charged team timeouts during each half.

  2. After the ball is declared dead and before the snap, a legal substitute may request a timeout if he is between the nine-yard marks. (A.R. 3-3-4:I)

  3. A player who participated during the previous down may request a timeout between the time the ball is declared dead and the snap without being between the nine-yard marks. (A.R. 3-3-4:I)

  4. A head coach who is in, or in the vicinity of, his team area or coaching box may request a timeout between the time the ball is declared dead and the next snap.

  5. A player, incoming substitute or head coach may request a head coach’s conference with the referee if the coach believes a rule has been enforced improperly. If the rule enforcement is not changed, the coach’s team will be charged a timeout, or a delay penalty if all timeouts have been used.

    1. Only the referee may stop the clock for a head coach’s conference.

    2. A request for a head coach’s conference or challenge must be made before the ball is snapped or free-kicked for the next play and before the end of the second or fourth period (Rule 5-2-9).

    3. After a head coach’s conference or challenge, the full team timeout is granted if charged by the referee.

Approved ruling 3-3-4


  1. Before the snap, a legal substitute of either team running from the bench requests a timeout before being within the nine-yard marks. He then requests a timeout again after being within the nine-yard marks. RULING: Initial timeout request not granted. Second request granted (Rule 7-1-3-b). [Cited by 3-3-4-b, 3-3-4-c, 7-1-3-b-1]

ARTICLE 5. Injury Timeout




  1. In the event of an injured player(s):

    1. An official will declare a timeout and the player(s) must leave the game. He must remain out of the game for at least one down. When in question, officials will take a timeout for an injured player.

    2. The player(s) may not return to the game until he receives approval of medical personnel designated by his team.

    3. Officials, coaches and trainers shall give special attention to players who exhibit signs of a concussion. (See Appendix C.)

    4. Whenever a participant (player or game official) is bleeding, has blood saturated on the uniform, or has blood on exposed skin, the player or game official shall go to the team area and be given appropriate medical treatment. He may not return to the game without approval of medical personnel. (A.R. 3-3-5:I-VII)

  2. To curtail a possible time-gaining advantage by feigning injuries, attention is directed to the strongly worded statement in “The Football Code” (Coaching Ethics, paragraph h).

  3. An injury timeout may follow a charged team timeout.

  4. The referee will declare a timeout for an injured official.

  5. Following a timeout for an injured player of the defensive team, the play clock shall be set at 40 seconds.

  6. Ten-Second Runoff. If the player injury is the only reason for stopping the clock (other than his or a teammate’s helmet coming off, Rule 3-3-9) with less than one minute in the half, the opponent has the option of a 10-second runoff.

    1. The play clock will be set at 40 seconds for an injury to a player of the defensive team and at 25 seconds for an injury to a player of the offensive team (Rule 3-2-4-c-4).
    2. If there is a 10-second runoff the game clock will start on the referee’s signal. If there is no 10-second runoff the game clock will start on the snap.
    3. The 10-second runoff may be avoided by the use of a charged team timeout if available.
    4. There is no option of a 10-second runoff if there are injuries to opposing players. (A.R. 3-3-5-VIII and IX)

Approved ruling 3-3-5


  1. At the end of a play, with the game clock running, the referee notices that A22 is bleeding. RULING: The referee stops the clock and declares an injury timeout. A22 leaves the field of play (or the end zone) for treatment by appropriate medical personnel. Unless there is also an injury to a Team B player the play clock is set to 25 seconds and starts on the ready-for-play signal (Rule 3-2-4-c-4). [Cited by 3-3-2-e-5, 3-3-5-a-4]
  2. After being treated for a bleeding or oozing wound, A22 (A.R. 3-3-5:I) attempts to enter the game before the next snap. RULING: A22 must remain out of the game for at least one play. In any event, he may return only on the approval of his team’s medical personnel. [Cited by 3-3-2-e-5, 3-3-5-a-4]
  3. B52’s jersey has blood spots on it. RULING: Unless the official determines that the jersey is saturated with blood, B52 may remain in the game. (Note: Saturated is defined as soaked with moisture or drenched. If blood has penetrated through a garment to the skin or can be transferred to another player or game official, the garment is saturated.) [Cited by 3-3-2-e-5, 3-3-5-a-4]
  4. An official notices that blood has soaked through B10’s jersey. RULING: B10 must leave the game until medical personnel have determined if the jersey must be replaced. [Cited by 3-3-2-e-5, 3-3-5-a-4]
  5. B10 tackles A12. An official determines that B10’s jersey is saturated with blood from a cut on A12’s arm. RULING: Both players must leave the game – A12 for treatment of his open wound, B10 for a determination by medical personnel as to whether he has to replace his jersey. [Cited by 3-3-2-e-5, 3-3-5-a-4]
  6. During a dead-ball interval, A85 notices a bleeding cut on his arm. He voluntarily goes to the team area and is replaced by A88. RULING: This is a legal substitution and there is no variation in game timing. A85 may return to the game after the injury has been treated, but he must adhere to substitution rules. [Cited by 3-3-5-a-4]
  7. On second down the Team A ball carrier is tackled inbounds. The clock is then stopped for an injury to a player of Team B. (a) No other players are injured on the play. (b) There is also an injury to a player of Team A. (c) The referee grants a media timeout. RULING: In (a), (b) and (c) upon preparing to resume play the referee will indicate that the play clock be set to 40 seconds. Both the play clock and the game clock will start on the ready-for-play signal. [Cited by 3-3-5-a-4]
  8. Late in the half, ball carrier A35 is tackled. B79 goes to the ground with an injury, and the officials stop the game clock, which shows (a) 12 seconds; (b) eight seconds. RULING: Team A has the option of a 10-second runoff. If there is no 10-second runoff the game clock starts on the snap. If Team A accepts the option, (a) there will be two seconds on the game clock which will start on the referee’s signal; (b) time in the half has expired. [Cited by 3-3-5-f-2]
  9. Late in the half, ball carrier A35 is tackled beyond the line to gain. B79 goes to the ground with an injury. RULING: There is no option for a 10-second runoff. because the game clock stops on the first down as well as the injury. The game clock starts on the referee’s signal. [Cited by 3-3-5-f-2]

ARTICLE 6. Violation Timeouts


For noncompliance with Rule 9-2-2-d, the team will be charged a timeout (Rule 3-4-2-b-2).

ARTICLE 7. Length of Timeouts



  1. A charged full team timeout requested by any player or head coach shall be one minute plus the 25-second play clock interval. (Exception: Rule 3-3-4-e-3).

  2. For live televised games only, a charged team timeout shall be 30 seconds plus the 25-second play clock interval. However, the head coach may request that one of the allowed three timeouts in each half be a full timeout. This request should be communicated to the referee when the timeout request is made to the officials. The charged team timeout during an extra period (Rule 3-1-3-h) may be a full timeout, at the request of the head coach.

  3. Any charged team timeout shall be 30 seconds in duration upon a visual signal of the hands touching the shoulders, made by the head coach of the team requesting the timeout. The signal must be made promptly after the timeout is requested.

  4. Other timeouts shall be not longer than the referee deems necessary to fulfill the purpose for which they are declared, including a radio or TV timeout, but any timeout may be extended by the referee for the benefit of an injured player (Refer to Appendix A for the guidelines for game officials to use during a serious on-field player injury).

  5. If the team charged with a full team timeout wishes to resume play before the expiration of one minute and its opponent indicates readiness, the referee will declare the ball ready for play.

  6. The length of a referee’s timeout depends on the circumstances of each timeout.

  7. Penalty options must be exercised before a team timeout.

  8. The intermission after a safety, try or successful field goal shall be not more than one minute. It may be extended for radio or television.

ARTICLE 8. Referee’s Notification


During a full team timeout (Rule 3-3-7-a) the referee shall notify both teams after one minute. Five seconds later he shall declare the ball ready for play. During a 30-second team timeout (Rule 3-3-7-b or 3-3-7-c) the referee shall notify both teams after 30 seconds. Five seconds later he shall declare the ball ready for play.

  1. When a third timeout is charged to a team in either half, the referee shall notify the field captain and head coach of that team.

  2. Unless a visual game clock is the official timepiece, the referee also shall inform each field captain and head coach when two minutes or less of playing time remain in each half. He may order the clock stopped for that purpose.

    1. The play-clock count is not interrupted.

    2. The clock starts on the snap after the two-minute notification.


  3. If a visual game clock is not the official timing device during the last two minutes of each half, the referee or his representative shall notify each captain and head coach of the time remaining each time the clock is stopped by rule. Also, a representative may leave the team area along the limit line to relay timing information under these conditions.

ARTICLE 9. Helmet Comes Off — Timeout



  1. If a player’s helmet comes completely off through play, other than as the direct result of a foul by an opponent, the player must leave the game for the next down. The game clock will stop at the end of the down. The player may remain in the game if his team is granted a charged timeout.

  2. When the helmet coming off is the only reason for stopping the clock, other than due to an injury to the player or his teammate (Rule 3-3-5), the following conditions apply (A.R. 3-3-9:I-III):

    1. The play clock will be set at 25 seconds if the player is on offense and at 40 seconds if the player is on defense. With one minute or more remaining in either half, the game clock will start on the referee’s signal.

    2. Ten-Second Runoff. If there is less than one minute in the half the opponent has the option of a 10-second runoff, unless the helmet comes off as the direct result of a foul by the opponent.
    3. If there is a 10-second runoff the game clock will start on the referee’s signal. If there is no 10-second runoff the game clock will start on the snap.
    4. The 10-second runoff may be avoided by the use of a charged team timeout, if available.
    5. There is no option of a 10-second runoff if helmets come off opposing players. (A.R. 3-3-9-V)

  3. If the ball carrier’s helmet comes off as in paragraph a (above) the ball is dead (Rule 4-1-3-q). If the player is not the ball carrier the ball remains alive, but he must not continue to participate in the play beyond the immediate action in which he is engaged. Prolonged participation is a personal foul (Rule 9-1-17). By definition such a player is obviously out of the play (Rule 9-1-12-b).

  4. A player who intentionally removes his helmet during the down commits a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct (Rule 9-2-1-a-1-i).

Approved ruling 3-3-9


  1. After the ball is dead, A55 blocks B33 at his waist, knocking him to the ground. As B33 hits the ground his helmet comes off. RULING: Dead-ball foul by A55, 15-yard penalty from the succeeding spot. B33 must leave the game for the next down as his helmet came off through play and not due to a helmet foul. B33 may remain in the game if Team B takes a timeout. [Cited by 3-3-9-b]
  2. Late in the first quarter ball carrier A22 is legally tackled, and his helmet comes off just after his back hits the ground. The game clock reads 0:00. RULING: A22 must leave the game for the next down, which will be the initial down of the second quarter. A22’s helmet came off through play and there was no helmet foul by Team B. However, A22 may remain in the game if Team A takes a timeout. [Cited by 3-3-9-b]
  3. During the down A22’s helmet comes off (no helmet foul by the defense) and B77 goes down with an injury. The ball carrier is tackled inbounds. When the clock is stopped it reads 0:58 in the fourth quarter. RULING: Unless Team A takes a charged timeout, A22 must leave the game for one play. The play clock is set at 40 seconds, due to the defensive injury, rather than 25 seconds due to the helmet coming off the offensive player. There is no option for a 10-second runoff because the clock stops for both the helmet off and the injury, and these occur for opposing players. [Cited by 3-3-9-b]
  4. During the down A22’s helmet comes off (no helmet foul by the defense) and A45 goes down with an injury. The ball carrier is tackled inbounds. When the clock is stopped it reads 0:58 in the fourth quarter. RULING: Because the injury and the helmet off occur to players on the same team, there is an option for a 10-second runoff Team A may keep A22 in the game and also avoid the 10-second runoff by taking one charged timeout.
  5. During a running play that ends in bounds, a linebacker’s helmet comes off. When the ball becomes dead the game clock is stopped and reads 0:45 in the second quarter. RULING: The play clock is set at 40 seconds. Team A has the option for a 10-second runoff. If Team A exercises this option, unless Team B is charged with a timeout, the game clock is set to 0:35 and starts on the Referee’s signal. If Team B uses a timeout to avoid the 10-second runoff, the game clock remains at 0:45, the play clock is set at 25 and starts on the Referee’s signal, and the game clock starts on the snap.