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Time for change? College football coaches debate proposals aimed at reducing length of games

Time for change? College football coaches debate proposals aimed at reducing length of games

TCU enjoyed an unforgettable run to the College Football Playoff championship game in 2022, a ride that included an all-time classic against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl and four second-half comebacks in Big 12 play. 

Remember when kicker Griffin Kell scrambled onto the field for a walk-off field goal to beat Baylor 29-28 on Nov. 22, 2022 to keep those playoff hopes alive? Every second mattered for the Horned Frogs. That is why TCU coach Sonny Dykes supports the present clock rules in college football.

“I think that’s one of the things that makes college football unique,” Dykes told Sporting News. “You can score points quickly because that clock does stop. That leads to some really exciting finishes and some opportunities to make some significant comebacks in college football. To me, that would be one of the last options I would look at changing.” 

On Feb. 20, Sports Illustrated reported college football executives are considering four proposals with clock rules aimed at reducing the length of game times – which averaged three hours and 21 minutes in 2022. Those proposals have generated debate among FBS coaches who are wondering whether a change in style would offer substance when it comes to the possibility of shortening game times. ESPN reports those leaders are meeting in Indianapolis this week, and “the rules committee is expected to make public on Friday any proposed changes that ultimately have to be approved by the playing rules oversight panel in April.” 

College football proposed clock rule changes

– Clock would run after first downs in the field of play before the final two minutes of each half. 

– Clock would run after incomplete passes once the ball is spotted before the final two minutes of each half. 

– Coaches would be prohibited from calling consecutive timeouts. 

– Untimed downs after a defensive penalty in the  first or third quarter would be eliminated. 

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said the clock rules are a stylistic separator from pro football. Calhoun did acknowledge the NFL does a great job of keeping games “in that delta between 2:40 and 2:55.” This is why those proposals are being considered. 

“I want to make sure we preserve the styles of play in college football,” Calhoun told SN. “I do think where we’re completely unique from the NFL is that you can go really, really fast or slow down. There’s the number of different things quarterbacks can do skill-wise and what we ask them to do. There are the array of defensive coverages and fronts you see in the college game. It’s much more extensive than it is in the NFL.” 

Yet that is where the debate intensifies. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is a former defensive coordinator who sees the benefit of keeping the clock moving on first downs outside of two minutes in each half.  

“I’m OK with that,” Narduzzi told SN. “To me, as much as we can model our game after the NFL, why wouldn’t we? These kids all want to go play at the next level. Why not just keep it the same? You could trim seven minutes from the telecast. That’s a good rule.” 

What else did those coaches have to say about the proposed rule changes? 

Should the clock stop on first downs?

TCU plays in the up-tempo Big 12 – and the Horned Frogs still ranked eighth in the conference while averaging 69.9 plays per game. Air Force runs the triple-option offense that led the FBS in time of possession at 36:27 last season. Those philosophical differences are part of the allure of the college game. Calhoun said they would adapt to a possible rule change but still supports the current rule where the clock stops on first down. 

“The good part is that if you want to be an offense that utilizes a good part of the 40-second clock you can,” Calhoun said. “If you want to be an offense that wants to snap at 32 seconds as long as you don’t substitute you can. That part of it is really good for college football, but I understand the idea that we need to reduce the number of plays for player safety.” 

Yet that is where the debate begins. Are these rule changes about player safety or shortening the game? The Panthers ran 71.7 plays per game in 2022, but Narduzzi believes the second proposal – which would keep the clock running after an incomplete pass – would not help. 

“It’s a little off the wall,” Narduzzi said. “I think if you talk to most offensive coaches, they want that clock to stop so they can get more plays. I’m a defensive coach. What’s going to happen is these offensive coaches are going to speed the game up and try to get as many plays as they can. That’s working against the safety concerns. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than players going out there and playing when they are tired.” 

Dykes also is not in favor of that rule change, and his response was more candid.  

“That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Dykes said. “I thought that one was pretty asinine, you know?” 

MORE: Dykes earns SN Coach of the Year award

What about consecutive timeouts? 

The proposal about untimed downs at the end of the first and third quarters was met with little resistance, but the consecutive timeouts creates another intriguing debate. The rule is geared toward the practice of icing a kicker at the end of a half or game. 

“Not twice,” Calhoun said. “That makes complete sense. To only use one timeout in that situation is completely understandable.”

Narduzzi took the opposite viewpoint, and it does not have to do with the spirit of that proposed change. 

“Coaches save their timeouts for a reason,” Narduzzi said. “I hate to penalize a team – and I could care less about icing the kicker. That’s a bunch of baloney. If you ice him once, then what’s the difference between doing it again?” 

Narduzzi recalled a situation against Duke where the Panthers led Duke 28-26 in the final minute on Nov. 22, 2022. Narduzzi used multiple timeouts after the Blue Devils showed their onside kick alignment. The Panthers recovered the eventual attempt and won the game. 

“To me, it was an advantage,” Narduzzi said. “I used one, and they came out in a different formation. Timeout. It’s all strategy. That’s why they pay us to coach.” 

It’s the length of some of those timeouts, which all three coaches conceded were part of the games because of commercials and advertising. 

“We’re ready to play football a lot, and we’re waiting on the networks a lot, and I understand that advertising is what pays these bills.” Dykes said. “Let’s talk about those possibilities before we start talking about radical changes about the timing of the game.”

Knowing that is unlikely to change, the coaches still have questions about the proposals. 

Player safety and alternatives 

Would the new clock proposals shorten the game, reduce the number of plays and increase player safety? That is the question that resonates most with Calhoun. He wonders how much the number of cumulative snaps would change if those clock proposals are approved. 

“When somebody mentions exposures – and if we’re playing 20 more plays on average a game than the NFL – I could see from a player’s health standpoint where that would be a concern,” Calhoun said. “If Major League Baseball is playing seven days a week and they are playing nine-inning games, we don’t play 11 innings in college baseball. That part I get.” 

Narduzzi, however, is not sure the proposals would make much difference from that standpoint, especially when the College Football Playoff expands. 

MORE: Georgia, Alabama lead SN’s too-early Top 25

“They conveniently say that when they think that’s the good thing to say, but I’m not sure that’s what is going to happen,” Narduzzi said. “They have been talking about how to shorten the game for years prior to a 12-team playoff even being a distant thought, and now you are getting closer to the 18-game NFL season.” 

Dykes targeted the review of the replay process as a better means of shortening game times; with the preference being limiting review to plays of a certain amount of yardage or change of possession outside the two-minute mark. 

“There’s a fine line between all these things,” Dykes said. “I can’t tell you how many games I’ve been in where they’ve reviewed three or four consecutive plays, and it’s in the first quarter. You’re sitting there thinking, ‘The ball is at midfield. I don’t know how significant this play is going to be in the ball game.”

Narduzzi said that would only work if all the conferences have different replay procedures within their stadiums. 

“I think you have to get it right,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t have a red flag. I can only use a timeout. These are not NFL officials. These are college officials. There are so many discrepancies in different stadiums. In the NFL, there are only 32 teams. Everybody has to do it the same way. We can’t control what happens when we play in the SEC or the Big Ten.” 

More time needed before change? 

The average college halftime is 20 minutes, but Calhoun supports that difference because the band performances are part of the pageantry of college football – which is yet another separator from the NFL. 

“We don’t want our games to get too much shorter because we still have to sell some hot dogs and popcorn here,” Calhoun said. “I do understand from a player standpoint the reason why we want to do what makes the most sense.” 

Narduzzi supports some of those changes, even if he believes the unintended consequences might not benefit the players. 

“If they want to shorten the game, then shorten the game,” Narduzzi said. “The players aren’t looking at it in that way like, ‘Oh, they saved us five plays a game for 12 games. These 10 plays they might cut away maximum is nothing like another week of practice and that grind with a longer season.” 

With anything else, Dykes sees a need for more information. With all the changes in college football the last few years, that might make the most sense before changing the clock. 

“Is the conversation about player safety or is it that the games are too long?” Dykes asked. “I don’t know if we know what the actual conversation is. That needs to be defined first and foremost before we start talking about rule changes.”

Source : Sporting News

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