When it comes to major sports leagues, games are designed to last somewhere between 2-3 hours in length.
Most sports use a game clock to set the limit of the contest, Basketball included.
Baseball is one of the sports that doesn’t use a game clock at all. The game is divided into 9 innings where the two teams get each a chance at bat.
The end of the inning is reached when each team has surrendered 3 outs.
Meanwhile, the sports that use a game clock split their games differently.
The NHL (Hockey) uses a 3-period system of 20 minutes each, while the NFL (Football) is split into four quarters, 15 minutes each.
MLS (Soccer) is divided into two halves, 45-minutes in length.
As for the NBA and international Basketball (FIBA), games are divided into four quarters.
And to throw you a curveball, College (NCAA) ball is divided into two halves.
So, let’s answer the question you came here for…
How long is a Quarter in Basketball?
In the NBA, each quarter is 12 minutes long for a total game time of 48 minutes. Meanwhile, international games governed by FIBA are made up of four quarters, 10 minutes in length each. Due to stoppages such TV timeouts, substitutions and fouls, the quarter will last much longer in real time.
Coming back to the NBA, quarters 1-3 last on average anywhere between 20-25 minutes in real time.
The fourth quarter all depends on how close the game is. If there is a significant margin between the two teams, expect something similar to the other quarters.
However, if the game is close enough, you might see the quarter stretch out to 30+ minutes in real time.
That’s because teams will use their timeouts to discuss strategy for reducing the score margin.
They may also take deliberate fouls to force their opponents to the free throw line, rather than let the clock run out.
This is only possible when a team has crossed the threshold for permissible fouls.
Typically, players are only sent to the free throw line when fouled while attempting a shot or due to a flagrant foul.
But once a team has collectively accumulated 5 fouls in a quarter, their opponent will be in the bonus. Which simply means that the opponent will be awarded free throws for every subsequent personal foul.
These two situations alone will drag out the final quarter long enough, unless the game goes to overtime.
For a more information on the length of a basketball game in real-time, check out my blog post here.
If the game is tied after four quarters, teams will head to overtime.
Take note that basketball games never end in ties and a winner must be declared for each contest.
Overtime periods are 5-minutes long and are played to their conclusions. That is, the teams play continuously through overtime.
If there is still no winner, the teams play a second overtime period – and so on and so forth.
How many Quarters in a College Basketball game?
There are no quarters in College Basketball, rather the game is split into two halves. Each half is 20 minutes in length for a total game time of 40 minutes.
While there are typical stoppages such as TV timeouts and substitutions, teams are only given half time to rest up.
The total game clock is equal in length to that of FIBA even though the games are split differently.
The theory for sticking with two halves rather than 4 quarters is due to making the game more competitive. (source)
The reasoning is that less game disruption results in more chances in scoring and a steady flow to the game.
Ultimately, the sense was that games end up tighter in score.
Whether basketball games are split into two halves or four quarters, fans desire competitive play for a certain duration.
There is no doubt a game close in score will keep the audience at the edge of their seats.
But the match length cannot drag on for too long.
One reason is that you have families attending the event, and you don’t want to keep the young ones out too late. Games usually start at 7 or 7:30pm local time.
Second, your audience can easily get bored and leave if the game gets out of hand.
Fans even get exhausted during playoff games that go to double or triple overtime. Not just physically, but emotionally as well.
That’s a lot for a person to take when your team’s chances of winning are on the line.
At the same time, if the games are too short, you might not attract enough spectators to attend games.
Who's going to leave their house, fight for a parking spot and trek to their seats to catch a game for only an hour's worth of entertainment?
In any case, I’m against any sudden changes to the rules, especially for the NBA.
If it ain't broke, don’t fix.
Keep the four quarters and game length as is.