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Not to Belabor the Point

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I've said all I want to say about the proposed rule changes, and my opposition to them on two grounds: the new clock rules are an unnecessary concession to advertising, which is the real cause of the non-problem of long games, and they will reduce the total number of plays.

For reasons I've already articulated, the second point is not in dispute in my mind despite much disagreement in the comments here and elsewhere. One of the rules, mandating the game clock start when the ball is set after out-of-bounds plays (it has previously always been stopped) is guaranteed to cut the total number of plays by some amount. There seems to be agreement and some tepid hate toward that part of the proposal. The argument is over the other big change, from a 25-second play clock that begins when the ball is marked for play to a 40-second play clock that begins running immediately, a direct copy of NFL rules. If officials currently take 15 seconds to spot the ball before beginning the 25-second clock, in other words, the change is a wash in terms of the total number of snaps.

I don't think it is a wash, especially when it comes to running the clock out in the final two minutes. But at Mssr. Swindle's behest, I decided to take a closer look at exactly how long it's been taking officials to spot the ball and signal the play clock between plays. The best available video for this is a non-broadcast clip of the 2006 LSU-Florida game in Gainesville, narrated by the LSU radio crew, which never cuts away for fan shots, close-ups, promos, replays, graphics or any other distractions; the umpire and referee are clearly visible at all times spotting the ball and signaling the play clock to begin counting down.

This game was during the 3-2-5e season, but that rule affected the clock only on changes of possession, which are not part of what we're looking for. I charted scrimmage plays in the first half, counting the time between the end of each play and the ready-for-play signal on the next play, and also the seconds elapsed between the end of each play and the snap of the followin play (including the time elapsed to spot the ball). It is not representative and cannot be extrapolated to define a whole that includes hundreds of games. It's just to get an idea.

Won't you count with me?

Obsessive conclusions below the jump...

Play (Florida) Spot Time Snap Time Play (LSU) Spot Time Snap Time
Leak pass to Cornelius 12 24 Russell pass to Bowe 10 19
Leak pass to Harvin 11 22 Hester run 15 23
Leak pass to Ingram 11 23 Hester run 7 19
Moore run 13 Time Out Davis run 11 22
Leak Incomplete 11 27 Russell pass to Davis Penalty -
Moore run 11 27 Doucet run 7 22
Leak pass to Baker 14 24 Broussard run 11 Offside
Fumble - - Broussard run 10 24
James run 9 21 Russell pass to Hester TD -
Highsmith sack 10 25 Russell incomplete Penalty -
Leak pass to Baker Injury - Hester run 11 25
Leak incomplete 15 30 Russell incomplete 13 27
Tebow run 13 26 Russell Incomplete 18 29
Caldwell run 12 Time Out Punt Penalty 10 19
Leak run 11 27 Hester run 11 24
Leak pass to Cornelius 12 23 Russell incomplete 12 28
Leak pass INT - - Russell pass to Hester 15 28
Moore run 13 26 Russell run 14 24
Leak incomplete 11 21 Doucet run 11 27
Leak pass to Caldwell 12 19 Russell incomplete 17 Offside
Leak incomplete 13 24 Broussard run 11 24
Leak incomplete 10 23 Broussard run 11 24
Leak pass to Caldwell 12 22 Russell pass to Doucet 12 23
Leak pass to Baker 11 25 Broussard run 10 28
Caldwell run 17 24 Russell pass to Bowe 12 28
Leak pass to Moore 10 Timeout Hester run 11 24
Leak pass to Cornelius 16 27 Russell pass to Davis Penalty -
Leak incomplete Penalty - Russell incomplete 10 16
Leak incomplete Penalty - Russell run 11 25
Tebow run 9 Timeout Hester run 14 Replay
Tebow pass to Casey TD - Fumble - -
Russell pass INT - -

Four observations:

  1. LSU dominated the game up to the holding penalty that brought back the touchdown by Craig Davis and the subsequent goalline fumble by Jacob Hester.
  2. LSU huddles really, really close to the ball.
  3. When not fumbling away the momentum that could have carried his team to a mythical championship shot, Jacob Hester is just a foot-baw playa.
  4. There is a big difference in when the ball is set for play and when the referee actually signals it ready for play. Penn Wagers here stands over the ball with his hand in the air, ready to signal the clock, for anywhere from two to four seconds. There are a couple plays the camera cuts away while Wagers still has his hand up, and when it comes down from that point is anyone's guess. I usually still expect him to be standing there when the shot pans back five seconds later. He wastes a solid minute of game clock doing this for no discernible reason.
  5. These results seem pretty representative, based on what we already know: 10-15 seconds to spot the ball, somewhere in the vicinity of 25 seconds to snap it.
So the results don't change anything from my perspective, even if they are representative. Neither team ever took anywhere near 40 seconds to get a snap off, as it will have the opportunity to next year if the proposed rule changes pass into law (there is an early delay of game call I find completely baffling, unless the play clock actually began at the end of the previous play). Officials could get the play clock going in under ten seconds on almost every play if it was a priority. But I don't think this will have a huge effect because teams aren't going to change their tempo offensively. Florida and LSU were regularly snapping the ball with ten second left on the play clock in this sample, and by and large, offenses almost certainly will continue to take about 25 seconds between snaps.

The opportunity is there for a team that wants to exploit those extra seconds - a team with a lead, for example, or an outmanned team that wants to play keep-away with the opposing offense would have an incentive to milk it - but it probably won't cost as many plays as the new out-of-bounds rule unless certain offenses really make a point of slowing it down on a regular basis. This is possible but not likely; its effects are more likely to be situational, as in allowing slightly longer kneel-down periods. If you think actions tend to fill the time allotted (I think there's a good argument for this, but no good way to demonstrate it), the changes still represent an obvious problem. The greatest likelihood is that extent of the reduction in plays - again, the out-of-bounds rule virtually guarantees some reduction - will depend on the tempo of the offense.

Well, and the approval of the rules, of course, which is not guaranteed. Swindle cites OMG Insiderz! who think the NCAA Executive Committee will balk. Hopefully this is much ado about nothing.