clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Maybe 'Hate' Is Too Strong a Word

New, 10 comments

But not by much.

The NCAA Rules Committee enacted a series of clock changes last week:

In an attempt to produce more plays and points in a shorter game, the rules committee went back to the drawing board and on Wednesday recommended a few changes for the upcoming season.
[...]
The first is the implementation of a 40/25-second play clock, similar to that of the NFL. At the end of every play, the 40-second clock will start, which is the rule in the NFL. The old college rules featured a 25-second clock that did not start until the officials marked the ball ready for play. On a change of possession, the first play will be run on a 25-second clock.
[...]
The rules committee made another recommendation that will certainly shorten the game.

After a player runs out of bounds and the ball is made ready to play, the official will start the game clock. Under the old rules the game clock would not start until the ball was snapped. This new rule will not apply in the final two minutes of the first half and the final two minutes of the game.
- - -
[Emphasis added]

The immediate backlash on this site and around the `sphere was unequivocal and severe: more seconds on the play clock equals fewer plays and less scoring. Quit stealing our football! After a weekend and a few dissenting commenters, though, the loyal opposition is beginning to melt, quickly: Mssr. Swindle initially trashed the change at EDSBS, but today delivered not only a hedge based on an NCAA spokesman's insistence that the new rules will result in more plays, but later an outright retraction. Brian Cook, reading said NCAA response, also posited that purist anger is misplaced:
The committee is suggesting that the average time before the ball is spotted and the clock wound is greater than 15 seconds in college football. Therefore this change will actually remove dead time between plays, not heighten it. This seems improbable at first blush, but they've got a study and we don't.

So is this believable? Actually... yeah. Late, unlamented Rule 3-2-5e was so universally despised that you could be forgiven for thinking the rule's actual name was "Hated Rule 3-2-5e," and coaches were at the forefront of said hatred. Why would they suddenly change course just a year later? If they've done this study and they think the results are valid, this appears to be away to appease the ever-ravenous needs of TV without slicing games.
- - -

There are several dubious assumptions there, namely that college officials took more than 15 seconds on average to spot the ball and start the play clock after each play. For now, we'll focus on the argument that the new rules won't reduce the number of plays. We can do this by comparing college results in this area to results in the NFL, on which the new NCAA rules are modeled. Based on its regular season statistics, the so-called 40/25 clock in the pros led to a demonstrable slowdown last year compared to the 25-second clock in the college game:
Plays Per Game, NFL vs. NCAA Bowl Subdivision (2007)
Games* Plays Plays Per Team/Game Seconds Per Play
FBS 1,504 108,194 71.94 25.02
NFL 512 32,133 62.76 28.68

* - For mathematical purposes (and because of games vs. I-AA teams whose stats are not included), this is the sum of all games played by all teams in the FBS and NFL, not the number of actual head-to-head matchups.
- - -
There is no reason to believe the college numbers won't resemble the pro numbers under the same conditions. The kids might have less incentive to hurry, actually, if they're a big underdog, or if there is confusion that takes a few extra seconds to sort without the benefit of an offensive coordinator barking directly into the quarterback's helmet. If the 40-second clock is a wash (I don't think it will be), the new out-of-bounds rule will have a clock-shaving effect akin to the NFL's practice of running the clock after first down plays, with the same end result: fewer plays. It will also be much easier for offenses with a late lead to bleed the final minutes to death; NFL teams now can kneel down beginning all the way back at the two minute warning if the defense is out of timeouts, as the Saints have done on a couple of occasions under Sean Payton.

In summary: still no good.
- - -

Three seconds per snap or nine snaps per team may not seem like a significant difference, but week after week, a loss of 18 total plays per game will work out to about two-and-a-half or three possessions per game down the drain. That will probably be worth a decline of about 4-5 points every week, if the similar losses under the dreaded 3-2-5e are any indication. Any guess that the 40/25 clock will somehow increase plays is based on teams moving to the line quickly - "on consistent pace of play," in the words of the NCAA rep who responded to Orson's readers - but there is no incentive for offenses to take any less time than the rules afford. There's no way to predict the future with certainty, but the data from our "control group" (the NFL) indicates the number of plays will go down.

Aside from the incremental loss of football and increase in standing around, the larger point is that there is no problem with the existing rules. If games were too long (they're not), the culprit isn't the clock. The culprit is increased commercialization. Obviously, advertising isn't going anywhere; its expansion is natural as the game becomes more popular and more profitable. But its expansion at the expense of the game is insulting. The rules are not the problem. Market if you must, but consumers have the right to draw the line when the product is carved to suit the advertising.

Update [2008-2-19 8:10:17 by SMQ]: The Wiz and CFB Stats look at the network data and reach the same conclusion: the rules are not the problem. If there is a problem, that is, which there is not.