Everyone gets the ten-second runoff rule wrong, or at least most people appear to completely misunderstand what actually happens. And that is hardly the most scandalous thing in the NFL. More often than not, it is easier to decipher the NFL free picks than understand some of those more technical aspects of the game.
The idea of the 10-second runoff rule is simple: officials do not want teams to take advantage of their own injury or penalty by stopping the clock. Runoffs are used to end games which have ten seconds or fewer left.
It is also possible to spend a timeout to prevent a ten-second runoff. Looking at the NCAA football rulebook, things can get a little more complicated. A team has the option of a ten-second rule if there is less than one minute in the half and an injury from the opposing team is the only reason for stopping the clock.
But even that isn’t so complex: the point is that a team can take ten seconds off the clock if an opposite team player stays down injured. Things can get even more complicated than that.
The basic requirements for activating the ten-second runoff rule are a player’s helmet coming off during a play, an injury timeout or an accepted penalty for a foul, and these things must happen in the last minute of a half; this doesn’t include the final minutes of the first and third quarters. The runoff rule isn’t an option if any of these requirements happen to both teams.
A runoff will not occur if a foul occurs while the clock isn’t running, and only fouls that give a team an advantage activate the runoff. A runoff, for example, won’t happen if the offense throws a legal forward pass to tight end Number 88 who drops it. In the case that the pass is instead made to Number 66 and there is no one eligible in the area, and he drops it, the clock will stop, the offense will be penalized and a ten-second runoff option will be available for the defense.
And as inferred above, a foul can only make a runoff option available if it happens while the clock is still running. The Foul will cause the clock to be stopped; otherwise, fouls happening while the clock isn’t running do not make a runoff option available.
The LSU/Auburn game in 2016 makes this whole issue a little clearer. Everyone probably remembers that LSU didn’t get off a last second snap in time for an ensuing touchdown to be considered valid. And in failing here, LSU ostensibly lost.
Some people might not remember that LSU had a wide receiver that was not fully set before the snap. By never lining up, the receiver was flagged for a live-ball illegal shift even though the penalty should have been converted to a false start. The false start carries a runoff option, and if that had happened, the game would have already been over.
For the most part, the runoff rule isn’t difficult to comprehend if you remember the basics of what triggers it and how it is generally applied.