Use the 'Elam Ending' to Reduce Retirement Uncertainty

David Blanchett

What You Need to Know

The Elam Ending format creates a hard target for basketball teams to reach near the end of a game to win.
Using this strategy could help older workers with retirement planning, specifically with longevity risk.
By eliminating the uncertainty around longevity, a person can spend more freely in retirement.

March Madness is upon us. The end of college basketball games can be especially maddening, especially tight games where the losing team slowly tries to claw its way back through frequent fouls as it battles against the game clock.

What if there were a better way to determine the winner of a basketball game? I was recently introduced to the concept of the “Elam Ending” format in an article on

The Elam Ending format was created by Nick Elam, a professor at Ball State University. The format creates a score target required to win, which makes the game clock a nonfactor at some point in the game. It was recently used in the NBA All-Star Game and is being used in various NBA G League competitions as well.

To provide an example, let’s say the winner is determined by adding 20 points to the winning team’s score at the end of the third quarter. Therefore, if the score through the third quarter was Kentucky Wildcats 60, Louisville Cardinals 30, the first team to 80 points would be declared the winner. While shot clocks would still be enforced during the fourth quarter, there would be no more game clock to worry about.

This format is perhaps more similar to how pickup basketball games work, where the first team to the respective target wins. There is also no potential for overtime.

Creating a “hard target” to determine the winner has obvious implications on gameplay and strategy in general. While it may still make sense to foul players who aren’t very good at the free-throw line, the format encourages more pure basketball play since there is no more ambiguity on the number of points required to win.