The NCAA decision to speed up college football games by starting the game clock sooner and more frequently is already having an impact. Saturday night the Florida Gators had just ten offensive possessions against Southern Miss and ran just 59 plays all night. That’s ten fewer plays than Florida averaged per game a year ago.
And, according to Gator Coach Urban Meyer the Gators averaged about 14 possessions a game last season.
The changes in starting the clock sooner, running the clock during kickoffs and the like struck me as absurd moves when they occurred. The people in charge of television don’t like it when games go beyond three-and-a-half hours so they asked the NCAA to do something about it. What the schools should have done is told the networks to shorten their pre-games and their commercial breaks. Instead, they take away game action.
As a result, records will be harder to break, and comebacks more difficult to launch. Additionally, opportunities to get playing time for your reserves will be reduced because it’s likely to be much later in the game when you finally feel that the win is in hand.
It’s not as if there was a huge problem with long games. The Gators had just two regular season games that lasted more than 3:31. The LSU game, which ended up 21-to-17, ran 3:42 as the Gators used every tactic to stretch out the game trying to earn a winning touchdown. The Vanderbilt game ran 3:38, but that included overtime. In each case, the televising network was compensated for the extra clock time with exciting finishes and additional commercial breaks.
Monday, Urban Meyer added his voice to those squawking over the changes.
UM: We had ten legitimate possessions in that game Saturday. I’m very concerned with the direction of college football. I’m not really sure about the intent and I’m going to get really involved in that in the off-season. Not many people asked my opinion about that but we are playing a different style of football. We had ten possessions and that’s not enough. We work awfully hard and fans want to see scoring, coaches want to see scoring and ten possessions is not enough for college football. I’m very upset and I don’t like the direction of that. Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss each had nine possessions, nine drives. If someone asks I’m going to make it very well known that I’m very disappointed with that. Last year we averaged around 14 possessions a game and we’re down to ten now. That’s not good.
Meyer pointed out the quick placement of the ball and starting of the game clock after special teams’ plays creates a fatigue issue for some players.
UM: If you noticed every series we go right to the line of scrimmage and that’s a lot of gymnastics on the sidelines. After the ball is punted that’s usually a time where you can get a rest and get going. Your punt returner, your kick returner all the guys who are doing both need a rest to get going. Now you have 12 seconds from when that ball’s down until they crank it ready to go. That’s a major, major change. I talked to a couple of coaches who played Thursday night and they said, boy it’s different. Iowa State called me and they had triple overtime and they had 68 plays. We had ten possessions and scored on five. It’s just different.
Meyer admitted the cutback in the number of opportunities teams get with the ball affected his judgment when he went for it on fourth and 13 in the third quarter rather than attempting a field goal from 47 yards out.
UM: I felt like Dallas (Baker) and Chris (Leak) would hit that. If I had it to do over I’d probably let (Chris) Hetland take a shot at that. I got to get that out of my mind that we only have ten possessions. I want to score touchdowns, but you got to win that darned game, I know that. Right now I’d probably kick that thing unless Chris and Dallas are on, but we want to score some darn points around here.
Meyer said the rules changes were a brief topic at the SEC Coaches meeting in May.
UM: At the SEC meetings they said that this rule passed and the clock is going to keep running; then they started talking about what we’re going to order for lunch. And I kinda looked at somebody and said ‘what did they just say?’ Yeah, the rule has been changed.
The Gator coach was asked “how far” he’d go in trying to make his feelings known about the rules changes.
UM: If it doesn’t get in the way of recruiting or my family I’ll go nuts on it and try to get it back. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.
Other than TV network executives and a few sportswriters on deadlines I can’t find anyone who truly cares about the length of college football games. A terrific game can last four hours. A lousy game will have people heading for the exits, or other channels long before three hours are up. This was a bad solution to a minimal problem and will hurt young players seeking playing time and star players challenging records alike.
Go get ‘em, Urban!