Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Can the NCAA Control Time?
The NCAA's grand experiment for speeding up the game is over and, on one hand, it was successful, while on the other, it was a failure.
The NCAA recently announced that its rules committee recommended scrapping the practice of starting the clock after the referee's ball-ready signal after a change of possession and going back to the old way of starting the clock on the snap. The whole premise behind the original rule change was to shorten the length of games that were approaching three and a half hours. That's where the rule was successful — the average length of a college football game last season was a brief three hours, seven minutes.
Where the rule was unsuccessful, though, was in winning over the hearts and minds of those who really control the game — the coaches. The majority complained about the rule, saying that it was unfair. They were right. How many games did we see last year that came down to the final seconds and, after a punt or fourth down play, the offense had to sprint onto the field and get into formation before the ref wound the clock? A lot of games came to an unceremonious end with the team not being able to get the snap off before time ran out. Of course, in previous years, the offense would be guaranteed one last play with the clock not starting until the snap.
Another rule put in place last season was starting the clock when the ball was kicked on kickoffs rather than when the receiver caught it. That, too, will apparently be reverted back to the old rule. So, in order to again attempt to speed up the game, the rules committee proposed shortening time outs and using a shorter play clock after timeouts, pushing kickoffs back to the 30-yard line and giving officials a two-minute limit to review replays. Sounds like the NCAA wants to become more like the NFL.
Anyway, while some of these rule changes sound fine and dandy, and will likely have the support of coaches nationwide, if college football fathers really want to speed up the game, there's a better solution than tweaking the rules every year — limit the number and duration of TV timeouts. Of course, this is an entirely irrational suggestion on my part because that means television revenue would probably take a hit, and we all know that's completely out of the question.
Think about it, though. Who of us has been either watching a game on TV or attending one at the stadium and doesn't get fed up with the endless stoppage of play for commercials? Particularly in the first half — it's entirely ridiculous. After every punt, every kickoff, and kickoff return there's a bloody TV time out. If the game is a slug-it-out defensive struggle where neither team can do much more than punt after every three plays, then the first half takes about two hours in itself. If it's a shootout, the same holds true since the media needs a break after every kick off and return.
Now, I understand the reason behind piling up all the commercial breaks at the front of the game — it's so if the game comes down to the wire, the networks won't have to stifle any momentum by needing to squeeze in that last 60-second spot and avoid a refund or suit. However, the trade-off isn't much better. What would you rather see: a funny ad, or constant two-second cutaways of the sidelines and fans, endless drivel by the commentators, and constant promos for what's "coming up next on Network XYZ?"
The one rule change recommendation that doesn't make a lot of sense to me, especially once the TV factor is taken into consideration, is reducing the length of timeouts. Currently, a timeout is 65 seconds long, enough time for the network to drop in a couple of spots and have less commercial inventory near the end of the game. If the NCAA shortens timeouts to 30 seconds, that would be three minutes the networks would have to find during regular game play to complete their traffic logs. That would translate into either more commercial breaks during half-time, or additional breaks during the second half following changes of possession.
Two recommendations that do make sense, though, are pushing kickoffs back five yards and limiting replay timeouts. Obviously, having kickers boot from the 30-yard line will create more action on the field with more returns. And reducing replay reviews to two minutes will also help immensely. However, I'd include one addendum to that idea.
Allowing every play (with some restrictions) to be reviewable is another factor that pushes the length of games near the absurd. One game that I attended last season had three or four reviews in about a six-play span. That's insane. Not only should the rules committee limit the length of official reviews, but also the types of plays that are reviewable. Calling a replay time out to see if the receiver might have stepped out of bounds when he caught the ball five yards from the sideline is overdoing it just a little. Okay, so maybe I just "overdid" it a little right there, but you get my point.
In the end, though, the NCAA will do what it wants to address a perceived problem. In the past, it's cracked down on celebrations (NCAA: No Cheering Aloud Allowed) and implemented no-taunting rules and the like to rid the sport of the scourge of poor sportsmanship. It's latest crusade against something the establishment thinks it can control; but, just like people's emotions, time is something none of us can control.