NFL & College Football Overtime Rules Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Overtime rules in the NFL are different from the overtime rules in college. The two formats are different, which forces teams to strategize their approach differently.

NFL overtime rules force both teams to play until one team scores a touchdown. If the team who starts with the football in overtime kicks a field, the other team gets a chance to score points. The game ends when any team scores a touchdown.

In college football overtime, both teams get an opportunity to score. If one team scores and the other doesn’t, the game is over.

Let’s learn more about overtime rules in the NFL & College.

Overtime In Football

overtime in football

The overtime period begins when the game is tied at the end of regulation. Unlike other sports, football doesn’t end in a tie after regulation, the game is continued by an overtime period.

Similar to how both teams started the game, the captains of each team will meet at midfield for the coin toss to determine who will kick or receive. Whoever wins the coin toss, will more than likely receive the football. This is because the first team to score a touchdown in overtime will win the game (NFL rules).

College football overtime rules, however, the team who wins the coin toss will more than likely start on defense. This is to play defense, to get a stop, then they can score and end the game. We’ll discuss this further down in this article.

NFL Overtime Rules

In the NFL, the overtime period is 15 minutes long. There is no sudden-death period or two-minute warnings.

Both teams will meet at midfield for another coin toss. If the team wins the coin toss, they can kick or receiver, similar to how they did at the beginning of the game.

Once the team receives the football, they must score a touchdown to win and end the game. If a field goal is kicked, the other team can kick a field goal or score a touchdown to win the game.

The first team to score a touchdown wins the game in overtime in the NFL. If a game is tied at the end of regulation, it will end in a draw.

NFL overtime football

Teams will often elect to receive the football if they win the coin toss, giving them the best odds of scoring.

However, most notably in a playoff game of the Broncos vs. Patriots, Coach Bill Belichick elected to defend a side of a field, as he wanted to have the wind on his side.

This strategy is scarce, as you allow the other team to strike first and get points on the board.

However, the wind in Foxboro was blowing hard that night, and it was more beneficial for the defense to take the field first.

According to NFL.com – NFL Media research notes that, in the 33 overtime games played under the new rules, just five have ended on the first possession with a touchdown.

This ultimately paid off, as the Patriots ended up winning the playoff game against the Broncos.

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College Football Overtime Rules

College football overtime rules are different from overtime in the NFL.

In college overtime, both teams will get a chance to score a touchdown or a field goal. Whoever has the highest amount of points after both possessions, will win the game. If the game is tied, both teams will have another chance to score.

After regulation, both teams will meet at midfield for the overtime coin toss. Whoever wins the coin toss will determine who starts with the football. The team that lost the coin toss will decide which end zone they will defend.

College football overtime rules state that the ball will be on the 25-yard line, going into the opponent’s end zone.

The team that starts with the football has the chance to get one first down. They also get one timeout they can use. The play clock will remain the same as regulation.

If the team that starts with the ball scores a touchdown or kicks a field goal, the other team has a chance to score. The other team must match the scoring total or exceed the opponent’s score for the game to end.

If both teams score the same points or fail to score any points, they will keep playing. If any additional overtime periods begin and the score remains tied, the team that started with the football will start on defense now.

The ball will be reset at the 25-yard line each drive.

If both teams fail to score or tie, the possessions will be flipped. If Team A started with the football in overtime, they would begin on defense in the second overtime.

After the second overtime in college football, both teams must go for a two point conversion after scoring a touchdown. This is to make it more difficult for the offenses to score points and force a team to run a play.

overtime rules

After the third overtime period, the team that started with the football will take over and play offense. After each overtime period, the team will rotate with who starts with the football.

It’s also important to note that college football overtime rules state that no game can end in a tie. Both teams will possess the ball until one of them stops the other from scoring. If there is a fourth overtime or fifth overtime necessary, it will be played out until one team gains more points than the other.

The most overtime periods in college football history is nine. Illinois and Penn State for nine overtime on October 23, 2021.

High School Overtime Rules

High school overtime is similar to college football overtime rules. They follow the same rules and the same format for scoring.

Every school besides Texas plays by NFHS rules. These overtime rules can be found here on the NFHS website regarding overtime.

What Happens If The Defense Scores In Overtime?

If the defense scores a touchdown on a play from scrimmage in the NFL and college football overtime rules, they will win.

An interception for a touchdown or a fumble recovery for a touchdown will immediately end the game.

While this scenario is rare, it did happen in the NFL when the Seattle Seahawks lost to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.

This was after Matt Hasselback famously said that his team was going to win after the coin toss.

Keep Learning

The overtime period in football is one of the most exciting plays in the entire football game. When both teams go for their two point conversion attempts, the crowd is always on the edge of their seat.

The next college football game you watch, it’s important to understand the rules for the first overtime period and the second overtime.

Below are articles to help you learn more about the overtime rules of football.

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What Is A Safety In Football? Explained

College overtime rules and NFL overtime rules are different in the time format, as well as the scoring format.

A touchdown will end the game in the NFL, and the other team won’t have a chance to rebuttal.

In college, each team has an opportunity to score more points or as many points as their opponent. Some may argue that the college football overtime rules is more exciting, as each team has a chance to end the game from a short distance.

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About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.

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