MULE': The affects of rule changes

It may soon seem as antiquated as watching the Notre Dame Shift, with players hopping around in the backfield until just before the snap. Quaint. Football from another epoch.

That's how seeing college quarterbacks taking a knee after getting the clock within, say, 28 seconds of the final horn may eventually seem – though it always has represented one of the signal differences of why the college game is superior to the pros.


Of course, that will be the result of the NCAA's continuing NFLization of the college game, the latest example being the so-called time-saving rules that go in effect this fall.

Starting this season, on a first down the clock starts "at the ready,'' when the official thinks the teams should be prepared for the next play, instead of at the snap.


Also, on kickoffs the clock will now start when the kicker hits the ball instead of when when a receiver takes it.


This is all, of course, a way to trim the growing length of games – which reached an averaged three hours, 20 minutes last season, a good half-hour longer than a game took a few years ago.


Now, there is no proof to what I'm going to say here, but it's hard not to think that television has a role in these changes. Spillover time is lost money to the networks, though, of course, television is the prime reason for longer football.


The melding of time saved in picking up first downs, the passing game, and skillful use of timeouts is part of the strategies that make the college sport so much more interesting than the NFL, which never had the stopped clock after gaining first downs.


What the NCAA is doing is changing the character of its product to fit the NFL model. When they say the rationale is saving time, what they are talking about is approximately five minutes. So now a game will run three hours and 15 minutes. That's an improvement?


Here's a better idea: Why not cut down on the number - or the length -  of television timeouts? That would save much more time without taking away the potential thrilling last minutes strategies.


It's said that what we're losing is 10 to 15 plays a game. That, my friends, is easily enough to alter outcomes, records and seasons. In fact, that number of lost plays over the course of a season is the equivalent of an entire season. Think about that.


There's another NFL-like rules change that has been somehow overlooked: Now instead of a spot foul on pass interference the penalty will be 15 yards and an automatic first down – just like in the pros. The upshot is that committing the foul will now be rewarded by not putting the defense in a worst situation that the penalty used to call for.


Too bad an infraction may now be the smart play, which is what this change will do. 


Still, the change in the clock procedure on first downs will be the most eye-catching.  It's interesting to ponder how much LSU lore almost certainly would never have happened the way they did under the new  rules: Bert Jones' 10-yard touchdown pass to Brad Davis with no time left against Ole Miss in 1972; and  Devery Henderson's Bluegrass Miracle 75-yard touchdown catch from Marcus Randall in 2002 were two victories that almost certainly wouldn't have been chalked up, though, of course, everything wouldn't have been called or happened in exactly the same way.


On the other hand,  shorter game-time would probably have aided the Tigers to one of their greatest moment in the monumental effort they gave against an All-World Southern Cal team in 1979. The Tigers, playing their last season under Charlie McClendon, played the No. 1-ranked Trojans off their feet, losing 17-12 on a USC touchdown with 32 seconds to go.


The old rule, like most, was a double-edged sword.




Marty Mule' is a veteran journalist and a former Times-Picayune sports writer based in Mandeville. Mule' will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Writer's Association Hall of Fame next month. Reach him at

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