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Matter of time

Unpopular college clock rules will go away in 2007

Posted: Wednesday February 14, 2007 7:53PM; Updated: Wednesday February 14, 2007 7:53PM
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Proposed NCAA football rules changes and the projected time saved by each
∙ Limit the play clock to 15 seconds following a TV timeout (three minutes)
∙ Kickoffs moved from 35-yard line to 30-yard line (one minute)
∙ Reduce charged team timeouts by 30 seconds (three to six minutes)
∙ Penalties for kicking-team fouls that occur during the kick enforced at the end of the run (two minutes)
∙ Start play clock on kickoffs when ball is handed to the kicker by the umpire (two minutes)
∙ Limit instant replay reviews to a maximum of two minutes
-- Stewart Mandel
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There are a whole bunch of smiling faces in coaches offices around the country today. Those widely despised game-clock changes the NCAA instituted last year -- the changes that chopped off an average of 14 plays per game, that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach called "stupid" and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr called "the worst rule in the past 50 years" -- are all but gone.

The NCAA Football Rules Committee, which convened this week in Albuquerque, N.M., announced a proposal Wednesday to revert to 2005 standards: No more starting the clock when a ball is kicked or on a change of possession. No more teams having to burn a timeout in the final minutes before they even run a play. No more intentionally lining up offsides on a kickoff to run the clock out as Wisconsin's Bret Bielema did against Penn State last year.

"The changes we made last year, overall, did not have a positive effect on college football at all levels," said committee chair Michael Clark, the head coach at Division III Bridgewater (Va.) College.

You think?

Last year's clock changes had a most dramatic and visible effect on college football games of any rules since the adoption of overtime in 1996. But while college's overtime format has sometimes drawn criticism, coaches seemed to universally loathe these rules, which unintentionally penalized high-scoring offenses (teams' average scores dropped from 26.9 to 24.4) and made it harder for teams to mount last-minute comebacks. "It's awful," Florida coach Urban Meyer said last October. "It changes the way you call a game; it cheats the fans; it cheats the players; it cheats everyone involved in college football."

Clark's committee, however, has not given up its goal of reducing the length of games (last year's average was 3:07, down from 3:21 in 2005) in what is believed to be a television-driven decision. Wednesday, they announced a new, more reasonable set of changes that, according to their plan (which should be formally adopted March 12), would still shave 11 to 14 minutes off a game's length without affecting the outcome to the extent last year's did.

"We feel with the changes in 2007 we're going to restore plays but at the same time diminish the dead time in games," said Clark. "We're going to work to maintain the game length we achieved in 2006."

Most of the changes seem fairly insignificant -- starting the play clock at :15 coming off a TV timeout (anyone who's sat through enough of them knows teams have more than enough time to get their play ready), reducing teams' timeouts by 30 seconds (again, TV networks usually tack on their own timeouts to these anyway), etc.

There is one proposed change, however, that should have coaches around the country raising an eyebrow -- and devoting a whole lot of practice time this spring to kickoff coverage.

Remember when Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kick of the national championship for a touchdown? That rarest of plays could soon become a whole lot more common as the committee has proposed moving kickoffs back from the 35- to the 30-yard line. The goal: Less touchbacks, resulting in more returns and, in turn, more elapsed time on kicks.

"We're trying to introduce a very exciting play back into football, particularly at the Division I level," said Clark. "We also think it will add more scoring back into the game."

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