As part of what appears to be a player safety initiative, the NCAA Rules Committee is considering changing a few rules in order to limit players’ “exposures” on the field. What does that mean exactly? Well, according to reports, these changes are intended to protect player health, and could, in turn, shorten games as well. Potential rule changes like preventing back-to-back timeouts in order to “ice” a kicker or removing extended periods for untimed downs after defensive penalties are being brought up but are considered inconsequential. A much more serious rule change is being considered though — allowing the game clock to run after first downs (except in the last two minutes of each half) and incomplete passes.
The latter is not being as seriously considered as the former yet, but these are both potential changes that will be discussed at the Rules Committee’s annual meeting next week. Assuming they pass, how would these changes affect the college football product? Well, first things first, games would be shorter. That’s fine. No sport has ever improved upon game time and seen a decline in entertainment. You could argue the opposite has happened in fact. Baseball has seen numerous improvements in viewership as they’ve made an effort to get through games quicker. While football has never experienced such a rule change, the idea of getting to the best parts of games in a speedier fashion doesn’t sound too terrible to me. The final two minutes of each half are always the most exciting part of a close game, and as I mentioned earlier, the Rules Committee wants to keep the rules more or less the same for those pivotal moments. Therefore, speeding the game up in order to get to those high-flying drives that get us on the edge of our seats could actually be an improvement.
College executives have been told that offenses would lose about seven plays per game if the clock was allowed to run after first downs. They would lose 18-20 plays per game if the clock ran after incomplete passes. Obviously, the latter is an enormous drop-off that I wouldn’t want to see. While seven offensive plays may not seem like much on the surface, that equates to 84 plays in a season, or about one game’s worth of plays we wouldn’t get to see under current NCAA rules. Does that matter? Maybe not. Not only would 11 games probably be enough for NFL teams to scout specific players on high-profile teams, but with the expansion of the CFB playoff coming in 2024, those same high-profile teams will be getting an extra game to strut their stuff anyway.
The NFL averages almost 155 plays per game (including special teams). FBS averages 180. By letting the clock run after first down, that number would shrink to 166. While student-athletes not getting paid NFL salaries shouldn’t have to endure far more plays than their professional counterparts, they’re also already playing far fewer games as a whole. Most injuries are sustained during the offseason anyway, and eliminating seven plays per game isn’t going to change that.
As I’ve already said, these possible changes are reportedly meant to prevent player injuries, not shorten games. If the latter was true, obvious changes like shortening college football halftimes would take the forefront. Furthermore, CBS reports that plays per CFB game have decreased each of the last three seasons, but game length has still increased from 3 hours, 16 minutes in 2018 to 3 hours, 21 minutes in 2022. That said, I’m not sure letting the clock run improves player safety substantially.
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I understand that the NCAA wants to make these changes without incurring serious financial repercussions, but that’s also the quickest way to improve player safety. Shoveling money into equipment research or employing more on-site medical staff would be an easy fix, but they don’t want to spend that money? To that I say, why make the change at all then? Don’t half-ass player safety and then pretend to be making changes in the name of player safety. That’s unethical, ineffective, and just downright shady. These changes aren’t going to change anything, so stop sitting on a pedestal propping them up.
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