College Football

September 17, 2006

Time Bomb

Coaches arepanning new TV-friendly clock-stoppage rules that are shortening games by anaverage of 13 snaps

When the NCAAFootball Rules Committee codified instant replay last February, it was perhapsthe most significant and popular change to college football's bylaws sinceovertime was introduced in 1996. But rule-book revisions that were adoptedconcurrently with instant replay--and with far less fanfare--haven't been aswell-received. Two weeks into the season, coaches around the country aregriping loudly about a pair of new timekeeping procedures designed to shortengames: One mandates that time start on a kickoff at the moment the ball iskicked (not when the receiving team touches it), and the other, morecontroversial, change involves starting the clock after a change of possessionat the referee's ready-for-play signal, not on the snap of the ball.

Committee membersestimated that the clock changes would reduce the number of snaps in a game byup to 24; in fact, the average has fallen by about 13. Meanwhile, televisedgames are shorter by about 10 minutes. But that doesn't mean the coaches haveto like it. "I think the new rules are stupid," says Texas Tech's MikeLeach. "It's interesting to me that we talk about football, football,football, and then we do all we can to have less football." Adds Minnesotacoach Glen Mason, "The reason we're doing this is to shorten the game forTV."

In addition tolosing plays, coaches also face a clock-management problem at the end of closegames. In effect a trailing team has only two timeouts with which to work.Take, for example, the situation faced by Miami's Larry Coker late in histeam's loss to Florida State on Sept. 4. It has become a case study for themany critics of the change-of-possession rule. Trailing 13--10 with 2:19 leftand having given the ball back to the Seminoles on a punt, Coker called one ofhis three timeouts before Florida State even snapped the ball.

Florida coachUrban Meyer has vowed not to rest until the new rule is rescinded, telling ThePalm Beach Post that "if it doesn't get in the way of my family andrecruiting, I'll go nuts on it."

Not every coach isopposed to the change. After all, the rules committee is made up of a dozencurrent and former coaches, including Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, who sees achance for innovation. "I think you're going to see a faster tempo from theoffenses," he told Florida Today.

But why didn't therules committee just adopt some of the commonsense timing standards used in theNFL, in which halftime is 12 minutes instead of 20, the clock doesn't stopwhile the chains are being reset after a first down and the average length of agame in 2005 was 3:08? The panel recommended shortening halftime to 15 minutes,but the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel said that marching bands needed 20minutes to perform. As for eliminating the clock stoppages on first down, itwould have been the only thing more unpopular with coaches than the newchange-of-possession policy. "That's sacred to the coaches," says JohnAdams, the secretary and rules editor of the committee. "We've proposedthat many times over the years, and they've always been unanimously againstit."

Adams hastens toadd that the timekeeping procedures can be revisited by the committee at theend of the season. "This is a one-year trial," he says. "I don'tthink it's fair to decide after two weeks."

Clock Watching

A comparison offive televised matchups from this year and last shows how the new rules areshortening games.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)