Basketball is a fast-paced, often high-scoring game that almost always ends with a victor. Even so, you might be wondering if such a game can ever end in a tie. This is an important question to answer, given the competitive nature of sporting events. We want to crown an eventual winner, no matter what type of game is being played. Basketball is no exception to this.
In general, basketball games cannot end in a tie. Overtime will be played until a team raises victorious. However, certain leagues and rules around the world allow for a tie from time to time. There are many different types of basketball and rules that can lead to this outcome. In the rest of the blog post, we would have a look at the circumstances where this can happen.
While you might not typically think of a tie being the outcome of a basketball game, it is nonetheless possible. Beyond that, it is helpful to know how the game is scored and how a winner is eventually decided no matter what level of play you are talking about. Continue reading to learn more about how a basketball game can end in a tie.
Why Do Basketball Games Rarely End in a Tie?
As a sport, basketball is one of the easiest games to score in. If you consider other sports where ties are actually quite common, those involve teams that often struggle to score for an entire period of play or more. Soccer, hockey, and American Football are perfect examples. If these sports were to eliminate ties, some games could go on for a day or more before a winner is decided.
From its outset, basketball has not allowed for ties in most situations. It is simply too easy to resolve a tie and declare a winner. However, there are many different types of basketball played around the world today, so the rules are evolving. As this post will point out, there are still some situations where a tie in the sport is possible.
How Are Timed Basketball Games Scored?
It is safe to say that most organized basketball is timed. There are exceptions to this, and there are a growing number of basketball variations that have moved away from time limits. However, for the most part, basketball games typically consist of either two timed halves or four timed quarters.
In a timed basketball game, the only score that really matters is the one at the end of official regulation. The score at the end of a quarter or half is essentially meaningless in this regard. If one team has more points than the other at the end of regulation, that team will be declared the winner.
Do Basketball Games Always Have a Time Limit?
The modern-day game of basketball typically has a time limit attached to it. The time will vary depending on the level being played and the venue, such as a regular game versus a tournament game. However, there are many variations to this time limit. We will cover some of the most common below.
Timing of Youth Basketball Games
Youth basketball differs widely from other forms of the sport because the length of the game will change based upon the age of the players on the court. Here are some general guidelines when it comes to the timing of youth basketball games:
- Ages 5-8 – There are typically four quarters, with each one being four to five minutes long.
- Ages 9-11 – There are typically four quarters, with each one being six minutes long.
- Ages 12-14 – Once again, there will usually be four quarters at this age level, with each one lasting seven minutes.
It is important to keep in mind that these are just general guidelines. A local committee will govern youth basketball. The league might subscribe to the rules of a national association, or they could choose to modify certain rules to fit their own needs.
When it comes to the timing of the game, this is where you will notice the biggest changes from one youth basketball league to another. Some might be forced to lower the time limits based upon court availability. It is also, because of this, that games may end in a tie. Youth basketball games are not afforded the luxury of having unlimited time available to be on the court.
Timing of High School Basketball Games
High school basketball continues to remain extremely popular throughout the United States. It is seen as a launching pad to college and then to the professional ranks for the lucky few. In order to prepare for that day, the length of the games will increase from that of youth basketball.
Most high school basketball today consists of a 32-minute game. This will be divided into four, eight-minute quarters. There is also a 15-minute halftime at the end of the second quarter. At this level, overtime is played if a game is tied at the end of regulation. The general rule is for each overtime period to be half of the normal length of a quarter, so four minutes in this case.
If a high school game remains tied at the end of the first four-minute overtime session, a brief break will be given before beginning the next overtime. Theoretically, the game will continue for as many overtimes as is necessary to declare a winner. However, the game can still be called a tie if the referees or local athletic associations deem it in the players’ best interest. However, this is an extremely rare occurrence.
Timing of University Basketball Games
Ironically, college basketball in the United States is the only form of the sport that plays two halves as a general rule as opposed to four quarters. College games will last for 40 minutes of game time, split into two, 20-minute halves. Once again, it is only the score at the end of regulation that matters.
If the score is tied, the game will go into overtime, with a jump ball starting each session. This will continue indefinitely until a winner is declared. A tie is technically not possible at this level, as it would adversely impact the standings that lead to postseason play. As such, overtimes continue to be played at five minutes per session.
To date, no college basketball game has ever ended in a tie. The longest college basketball games ever played took place in 1981. The game was between the University of Cincinnati and Bradley. It lasted 75 minutes, which means that the winner was not decided until the 7th overtime period. Cincinnati won by a score of 75-73.
While that was the longest game from an on-court perspective, there was one that lasted longer than that. It was in 2014 that a game between Johnson C. Smith and Winston-Salem State lasted for 40 hours. This is because the game had to be suspended late in the game, with the score tied at 76 apiece.
With 0.3 seconds left in the game, a player on Johnson C. Smith actually knocked out one of the lights in the gymnasium, creating an unsafe playing environment. It would take a day to get that fixed, so the game resumed two days later. Association rules did not allow for a tie, but Winston-Salem State could have opted to have the winner decided by a coin toss.
They elected to play the overtime period instead. That would take place on a Friday afternoon and would last for one, five-minute session. This is a perfect example of how ties are not permitted by rules in college basketball. Even if a tie was remotely possible due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a power outage, the game will either be played later, or a coin toss will decide the winner.
Timing of NBA Basketball Games
This is the most popular and well known basketball league around the world, watched by fans in more than 200 countries. By rule, a game in the NBA cannot end in a tie, and that has stood the test of time. Since the NBA was formed, no game has ever ended in a tie.
Professional NBA games consist of a regulation 48-minute session. This is divided into four 12 minute quarters, with a 15 minutes intermission halfway through. Overtime sessions are actually quite common considering how high scoring the average game is. An overtime period lasts for five minutes. If it is still tied, another overtime session will immediately follow.
If you are wondering what the longest game in NBA history was, you will have to go back to 1951. The two teams who played, the Indianapolis Olympians and Rochester Royals, are no longer in the league. The game lasted for 78 minutes, which equates to a total of six overtime periods. The final score was 75-73 in favor of Indianapolis.
If you think that this is a low score for such a long game, you would be correct. At this time in NBA history, there was no shot clock. It was largely because of this game that the rules changed, and a shot clock has now been in effect ever since. This makes it less likely that a team can run the clock down and create a tied situation for multiple overtime sessions on end.
Timing of International Basketball Games
As you can imagine, the rules of basketball from one country to another can differ quite dramatically. However, it is important to have standardized rules to the game when nations play nations. That is where FIBA comes into the picture.
Similar to the NBA, international basketball games are split into four quarters. Each quarter lasts for ten minutes, meaning that an international regulation contest will last for 40 minutes. Overtime is played and is set to last five minutes. Another overtime will be played if the game remains tied at the end of the five minutes.
By rule, an international game sponsored FIBA cannot end in a tie either. While there could theoretically be exceptions to this rule, as we will discuss in a moment, no international game has ever ended without a winner being declared.
Much of the reason an international game cannot end in a tie is that teams will play in a pool with other countries. Ties do not count, so only wins and losses will earn a team any points that are necessary to advance to the next round. Because teams have often had to travel great distances to play the game, returning to resume a tied game at a later date simply is not an option.
Timing of European Basketball Games
This is where things get interesting. European basketball largely follows FIBA rules in most respects, including timing. There are four, ten-minute quarters that are played throughout the league. During the regular season, ties are not possible. A five minute overtime session will be played to determine the winner, with another being played if the game has still been tied.
The difference comes in the playoffs. This is a different system than college or NBA basketball follows. In Europe, a two-game aggregate contest is played between two teams. If the game is tied at the end of regulation after the first game, no overtime is played. This is because the winner of the contest is actually the team that scores the most combined points over the two games.
It is actually written into the European tournament rulebook that overtime is not to be played unless the score is tied at the end of two games. This means that the second game could end in a tie as well, providing one team scored more than the other during the first game. This rule was implemented to save time during tournament play but has turned out to be quite popular amongst players and fans.
How Street Basketball is Played
To this point, we have talked only about organized league basketball. There are other versions of the sport played around the world that are just as valid as any other. Commonly referred to as street basketball, this is the version of the sport that many people grow up playing.
Because it is often difficult for street basketball to be played with a timer, the winner is often decided as the team that scores a certain number of points first. With this rule in effect, the only way for a tie to be possible is if two teams had the same number of points and the game had to suddenly be stopped for one reason or another.
Since most street basketball is played for pride only, there really is no reason to have a tie. Teams will just keep playing until they have either decided on a winner or both teams decide that they have had enough. A tie would not impact standings in any way because there is nothing to indicate how one team is performing over another.
The Growing Phenomenon of 3X3 Basketball – Are Ties Possible?
Out of street basketball, 3X3 basketball has been born. This has slowly grown in popularity over the past few decades to the point that this version of the game made its debut in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
The rules for this version of basketball are quite different. To begin with, the game is played on only half of the court. This makes the strategy much different as well. In addition to the ball being a bit smaller, the game is meant to be fast-paced. It is not technically time. One game will only last for a maximum of 10 minutes.
The winner is actually the team that scores 21 points first. Keep in mind that 3X3 basketball only allows for one or two-point shots. There are free throws to take into account as well. If no team has 21 points at the end of 10 minutes, the winner is the team with the most points.
This version of basketball does not allow for a tie either, but the overtime period is quite unique. The rule that states the winner of the game is the team that scores 21 points does not change. The team that scores two points first in overtime will be the winner. The exception is if the game was tied at 20. In that case, one point for either team will win the game.
Local Tournament Rules
Basketball has become such a popular sport worldwide because it can be played either inside or outside. This makes it ideal for any type of climate. As such, there are local tournaments played in many places around the world. Each local tournament may have its own rules.
While the rules do not allow for a tie, time constraints often dictate otherwise. Many local tournaments will have provisions in place for a tie. After a certain amount of time, the game will be called by the referee and then a determination will be made as to how that outcome affects the tournament. This is often the case when players are very young and cannot simply keep playing for an indeterminable period of time.
What Happens if Darkness Falls?
While most people are used to basketball playing indoors, there are many leagues where outdoor play is the rule rather than the exception. Many of these courts do not have lights. Because of that, there could be an occasion when a game is tied and the referee determines that the game cannot continue.
If that is the case, a few options are on the table:
- The game can resume at a later date
- A simple coin toss decides the winner of the game
- A tie is declared
Whichever of these outcomes is used, it will be up to the discretion of either the game referee or a league official.
How Would a Tie Impact Basketball League Standings?
Since basketball is not set up to allow for a tie, having such a result would have a negative impact on any league standings. This is because a tie involves two teams. There is no point system such as they have in hockey, where so many points are awarded for a win, none for a loss, and then some points for a tie.
Having a tie in basketball would mean that the two teams would suffer in the standings. This is why the only real exception to allowing for a tie is in European league playoffs, where an aggregate point system is now in place. In that case, a winner is still declared after two games have been completed.
What Happens if a Game Underway Cannot Continue?
While it is rare, there might be occasions when a basketball game cannot continue for one reason or another. Some of the more common situations that this might apply to include:
- Power outage (if an indoor game) – It might not always be practical to resume the game at a later date so that a tie may be declared. This is usually the case in youth basketball, where the stakes are not very high.
- Inclement weather (if an outdoor game) – The same would be true if a game is being played outside and the weather deteriorates to the point that playing is no longer determined to be safe.
- Issues with the building – An example of this was mentioned earlier in this article where a college game was tied when the lights were knocked out. That game resumed two days later, but some leagues would have an allowance in place to just declare a tie.
- Poor behavior in the crowd – A tie can be declared if the referees determine an unsafe playing environment due to poor crowd behavior. In some cases, both teams could forfeit the game, which results in a loss for everyone involved.
If any of the above situations were to occur, it is unlikely that the game could continue. In that case, it is typically up to the specific league rule, and the referees on-site that would determine who ultimately wins that game. In some cases, the game could either be replayed or resumed at another time.
With so many different levels and styles of basketball available to play in the world, it is little wonder why this continues to be one of the most popular sports. With the possibility of a tie, the excitement level just continues to be ramped up. Now that you know how it can happen, it is time to get out there and play the game you are most passionate about.