FOOTBALL: Rules Changes a Mixed Bag As Usual

Thursday's approval of several rules changes for college football includes some sensible measures and some which incorrectly address a perceived problem. The rules committee proposed several changes for 2006; proposals that will be voted on next month by the playing rules oversight panel.

Frankly, this looks like a solution in search of a problem. I've heard media types complain about long games. I've heard it from TV people and game operations folks. I just haven't heard it from a ticket buying fan.

Anyway, the proposals are out there, so let's look at each of the suggestions and the respective merits.

  • Conferences must use universal replay system --- Thank goodness for this one. The idea of having each conference doing its own thing was, in a word, stupid. Now all officials will operate under the same system, helping eliminate confusion… especially in bowl games. This will also help network broadcasters to get it through their skulls how it really works.
  • Coaches get replay challenge --- This should have been part of instant replay from day one. Not only do coaches get the chance to stop a game with replay review, but if they are right and the call is changed, you get your challenge back. There's no reason to punish a coach for correctly pointing out an on-field mistake by the officiating crew.
  • Visiting team decides whether or not to use replay --- With the move towards standardization among conference systems this probably won't be in effect very often. I guess independents will have some leverage with this, but there aren't very many of them. Still, I suppose it's a good idea. Look for pro-replay schools to start demanding replay approval from the "visiting" team as part of contract negotiations.

The other proposals are designed to deal with games running longer and longer. I'm not sure how much of a problem that is to be honest with you. Good games can go forever as far as most fans are concerned and bad games send people to the exits. As usual, most of the suggestions would result in fewer actual football plays. If they really wanted to shorten games they'd cut into the length and frequency of television time outs. Yeah, that'll happen.

  • Starting the clock on kickoffs once the ball is kicked --- Last year there were about ten kickoffs per game for the Gators' contests. If a kickoff lasts roughly six seconds this plan saves about a minute. That's a negligible savings for rule tinkering that could affect the outcome of a close game with late scores.
  • Lowering the kicking tee to one inch (from two) --- This might speed up the game a bit by limiting touchbacks but not much. But kickoff returns are a helluvalot more entertaining that touchbacks so I'll endorse this one.
  • Starting the game clock when ball is in play on change of possession --- I hate this! All it will do is cut out some plays. One of the many things that make college football a better game than the NFL is that you get many more plays. Anything that cuts into that advantage is a step in the wrong direction. No movement to shorten the total time should cost the game a single play.
  • Shorten halftime from 20 to 15 minutes --- That's a good idea, make sure the student-athletes get LESS rest during the game. Not to mention less time for re-hydration. Idiocy!

I've also heard others suggest no longer stopping the clock on a first down. Again, that means fewer plays.

If you really have to take a few minutes off the game, here are some better ways to do it.

  • Fewer, longer breaks --- Accepting the economic reality that total commercial time won't change, how about cutting down on the number of times the game is stopped artificially? Six two-minute breaks will end up taking less time than four three-minute breaks.
  • Fewer needless penalties --- If a false move does not draw anyone offsides, don't call it. Most illegal formation penalties are similarly victimless crimes that don't need to be enforced. Change the rules if you must, but get off this nonsense.
  • Cut play clock to 20 seconds --- Not only do you speed up the games, but you get more plays. No more watching the "Peyton Manning Boogie" as quarterbacks keeps walking back and forth and in and out changing and re-changing the play. Just call a play and get on with it.

Replace the chain gang for measurements --- There's a more modern, more accurate way to measure using a single marker. That'll save a minute or two, too

The bottom line is, things are fine in college football, but some fat cats have decided they want to get to happy hour a little more quickly. So if you have to change something ancillary to the game, be my guest. But keep college football the way it is with as many plays as possible.

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