This isn't about what will happen as the NCAA Football Rules Committee meets this week.
It's about what should be done.
|Tommy Tuberville is one of two coaches on the 13-member rules committee. (US Presswire)|
Try to find a college football coach who is happy about the rules changes. Not just neutral or accepting -- happy. Last year, the clock started when toe met ball on kickoffs. The clock ran on change of possession after the ball was spotted by officials. Approximately 16 plays per game were cut out.
Fifty-nine percent of I-A coaches are against the rules, according to an American Football Coaches Association survey. The number goes up in lower divisions. That essentially constitutes a landslide.
"I'd like to see them return to our old rules," Purdue's Joe Tiller grumbled to a reporter. "That's not going to happen."
But why? Take the average fan who pulls his RV into town Wednesday, sets up the grill and parties late into Saturday. On average, that fan saw one less touchdown per game and the lowest combined scoring by both teams since 1986.
While paying the same for his ticket.
See where this is headed?
Games were shorter, while we watched -- or sat through -- the same amount of commercials. Thanks to a study organized by cfbstats.com, there's only one conclusion.
The reason football games lasted so long in the past is because of, well, football. The solution? Less of it.
Some folks at cfbstats.com divided the length of broadcasts by the total number of rushing and passing plays. Games on CBS, Comcast, Lincoln Financial, ABC and ESPN averaged fewer plays per minute in 2006 compared to 2005. TBS and Fox remained the same. Only NBC -- which essentially broadcasts only Notre Dame's home games -- showed a slight increase in plays per game.
|Network||Plays per min.||+/-|
|Note: +/- is the increase/decrease from 2005. Source: cfbstats.com|
Just thought you'd like to know. The reason you're paying the same prices to see less football is so that the networks can come closer to shoe-horning in their product to a nice, tidy three-hour window.
It happened a few years ago in the NFL. It's happening to college football now, whether you believe the networks have a hand in this or not.
Whatever the case, it benefits them. It's called studio football, and it has been going on a while.
It's the same reason games are played pretty much every day of the week. It's the reason there is a national Saturday night game of the week. While that might be great for ratings, it's hell for fans who have to decide between a night in a hotel and a lonely two-lane at 2 in the morning.
Which begs the question: Why mess with a good thing? College football is enjoying all-time popularity. The NCAA announced last week a new national attendance record in 2006. Those TV ratings are through the roof.
Everyone swears there was no pressure from networks to shorten games. But when games were shortened, coaches all over the country were griping. While the committee is examining the rules, the network execs should be examining their consciences.
Look, I understand that there is a fine balance between football and the networks. TV is largely responsible for the explosion of the sport. In essence, the SEC's popularity on CBS helps pay my salary.
Thank you, Mike Slive, now please, try to find a happy medium. This big issue for major-college football has small representation. The 13-man rules committee consists of only two I-A coaches -- Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Oregon's Mike Bellotti.
The trickle-down effect last year, at times, bastardized the game. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema had his team intentionally go offsides against Penn State a couple times on kickoffs in order to run down the clock before halftime.
Comebacks were affected significantly. You saw trailing teams having to call timeouts on a change of possession just to stay in the game.
"I really hope whoever made these changes will go back and look them over," Texas' Mack Brown said way back in September after losing to Ohio State. "One of the great things about college football is a team's ability to come back. Now that's limited ... that's not fair to our fans. We worry about them sitting there."
There is anecdotal evidence of games lasting only two hours and 15 minutes or even less in the lower divisions not affected by TV. Rules committee chairman Mike Clark of Division III Bridgewater (Virginia) said the average game in his league declined 22 minutes to two hours and 30 minutes.
Offensive numbers, pretty much across the board, were the lowest in D-III since at least 1995. The average number of plays per team in Division II were the fewest ever (61.9).
That's not football, that's rush hour.
There are options, Clark said:
• Tweak: The most discussed adjustment is throwing out the stupid kicking rule, while using pre-2006 timing rules in the final two minutes. That at least gives teams more plays in crunch time.
• Different rules for different divisions: That might make the most sense. There are playoffs in every division except I-A. Why not let the lower divisions play by the old rules. By and large, length of games in I-AA, II and III isn't an issue. Division III has asked the NCAA for separated -- or "federated" -- rules.
• Go back to the rules pre-2006: Like Tiller suggested, that's probably not going to happen.
The vibe is still there to cut the length of games. But that's damn hard to do the right and just way without cutting a commercial or two.