College football is a sport with over a century's worth of tradition. In many ways, tradition is the very foundation of the sport, more so than the football itself. It ties generations of alumni and fans together. Without it, the sport would die.
Well, while you hear an awful lot about specific traditions tied to schools or conferences, there's one tradition shared by all college football fans: dumb debates that aren't likely to go anywhere but help kill time until kickoff.
No matter what part of the country you're from, where you went to school, or how good your school's program is, you love to debate dumb ideas if you're a college football fan. Dumb ideas that, after a while, don't see that dumb at all. In fact, they start to seem brilliant, and not just because you're on your fourth beer before 10 a.m. as you're tailgating with friends.
Today I bring you some of those ideas.
A few weeks ago, on the Cover 3 Podcast, we talked about rule changes we'd like to see in the sport. At least, my co-hosts did. I wasn't available to record that day. Some of my ideas were mentioned on the show, as were many other ideas I agree with and some I don't. Without me there to stupid things up a bit, my co-hosts stuck mostly to logical, procedural changes that could improve the sport but wouldn't change the game in an immediately noticeable way.
I assure you the rule changes I am about to propose would be noticeable. Your first inclination upon reading them might be to call me an idiot, but after thinking about them a little longer, you might start to realize there's something to them.
1. Offenses are not allowed to go for it on fourth down without picking up at least one first down. You can't watch a football game -- or any sport -- these days without hearing the word "analytics." While announcers use the term ad nauseam to explain decisions they don't understand, the most common times the word comes up are fourth downs or following touchdowns.
"The analytics say you go for two here."
I won't get into the analytics of what analytics are or the analytics of how announcers use the term, nor will I broach the analytics of their understanding of the analytics of which they speak. I will tell you that the analytics have led to teams going for it on fourth down far more often. And they should. The numbers (aka analytics) show that going for it on fourth down in many situations is a move that optimizes a team's chances to score more points than punting would, which is great!
But what if we made teams earn the right to do so? If a team takes possession of the ball, it would add a different element of strategy to the game if they had to pick up a first down before they had the option of going for it on fourth down. It would give coaches something else to think about when facing a fourth-down decision at midfield. The more decisions we put on a coach's plate, the more chances we get to second-guess that coach and feel superior to them, and that's at least half of what makes watching sports great. It's also a theme you'll notice running through all these rule changes.
Of course, not allowing an offense to go for it on fourth down without picking one up first could reduce drama late in games, so there will be exceptions. If you are inside your opponents' 40-yard line, or there are five minutes or fewer remaining in the half, you do not need to pick up a first down before you're allowed to go for it on fourth down.
2. Forcing a three-and-out should be worth points. Yes, you read that right. We're taking our first rule suggestion a step further. Over the years, nearly every rule change that has been enforced in football has benefitted offenses. You don't have to be a genius to figure out why. If you help the offense, more points will be scored, and the majority of people tuning into a football game would rather see a 41-38 score than 17-13. Well, why not give the defense another way to score points?
The only way a defense can put points on the board is by returning a turnover for a touchdown or getting a safety. If a defense forces an offense to go three-and-out, it should earn a point for that team. Suddenly third-down situations could become game-changers.
Imagine a team is trailing by three points early in the fourth quarter. It's forced the opponent to punt and have the ball at their 40-yard line. A run and an unsuccessful pass later, they find themselves in third-and-5, knowing that if they don't pick up the first down, that three-point deficit becomes a four-point deficit. Again, with this rule, we'd be adding more drama and important plays to games over time, but not so often that it would dramatically alter the sport. It would just add an interesting wrinkle.
Also, if anybody who helps run CBSSports.com fantasy football leagues is reading this, while I don't expect the NCAA to ever implement this idea, I don't see any reason it shouldn't already exist in fantasy football.
3. Longer field goals should be worth more points. Speaking of fantasy football, here's a rule inspired by it. While I no longer have kickers in any of my fantasy leagues (it's the only way to play, in my opinion), when I first began playing, field goals weren't only worth three points. Field goals of 40 yards or more were worth four, and kicks of 50+ were worth five. What if we applied that same kind of scoring to the real thing?
Since the start of the 2017 season, kickers at the FBS level have converted 73.7% of their field goal attempts, but as you'd expect, that success rate drops dramatically the longer the attempt gets.
|FG Distance||Success Rate||Percentage of Attempts||Expected Points per Attempt|
Up to 39 yards
It's not surprising to see any of these trends. A longer kick is more difficult, and therefore odds of success are lower, so coaches aren't willing to try them as often. But if a 50-yard kick is so much more difficult than a 35-yard kick, why are they worth the same amount of points?
Let's make any field goal attempt of 40 yards or more worth four points. Not only would it make having a strong kicker more valuable to a team, but it would add an entirely new element of strategy to games, particularly in late-game situations.
Put yourself in a coach's shoes as they try to decide whether they're better off going for it on fourth down at their opponent's 35-yard line or if they should try to get four points. Now they're not only figuring out if they should continue trying to reach the end zone, but you've added the calculus of determining whether you're better going off for four points instead of having to possibly settle for three points a few plays later.
Oh, the hindsight we'll have!
Also, in late-game situations, a four-point field goal option would make for more exciting finishes. You could also see overtime situations in which the team that gets the ball second might decide to try a four-point field goal on the very first play of their possession if they held their opponent to a three-pointer.
Speaking of overtime, I have one final rule suggestion.
4. You only get three downs in overtime. The thought process behind this one is pretty simple. College football games are already long. While the idea that the game could go on forever might be soothing from an existential perspective, I'm not sure it's the best thing for the players. So I'd like to shorten the length of overtime a bit and reduce the possibility of needing to play multiple overtimes.
Plus, it's just too easy for teams to score from the 25-yard line. Instead of moving the ball back -- I'm open to the idea of the ball being pushed back five yards for every additional OT period -- just take a down away. You either pick up 10 yards in three plays and keep possession of the ball for another set of downs, or you kick a field goal on third down.
These are just four of my ideas, and while they might seem crazy to you know, I firmly believe that if implemented, they would lead to a more interesting sport. Or, at the very least, another interesting dumb debate about the sport we all love.
I mean, it's better than arguing over how many playoff teams there should be for the millionth time, right?