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Coaches are panning new TV-friendly clock-stoppage rules that are shortening games by an average of 13 snaps
When the NCAA Football Rules Committee codified instant replay last February, it was perhaps the most significant and popular change to college football's bylaws since overtime was introduced in 1996. But rule-book revisions that were adopted concurrently with instant replay--and with far less fanfare--haven't been as well-received. Two weeks into the season, coaches around the country are griping loudly about a pair of new timekeeping procedures designed to shorten games: One mandates that time start on a kickoff at the moment the ball is kicked (not when the receiving team touches it), and the other, more controversial, change involves starting the clock after a change of possession at the referee's ready-for-play signal, not on the snap of the ball.
Committee members estimated that the clock changes would reduce the number of snaps in a game by up to 24; in fact, the average has fallen by about 13. Meanwhile, televised games are shorter by about 10 minutes. But that doesn't mean the coaches have to like it. "I think the new rules are stupid," says Texas Tech's Mike Leach. "It's interesting to me that we talk about football, football, football, and then we do all we can to have less football." Adds Minnesota coach Glen Mason, "The reason we're doing this is to shorten the game for TV."
In addition to losing plays, coaches also face a clock-management problem at the end of close games. In effect a trailing team has only two timeouts with which to work. Take, for example, the situation faced by Miami's Larry Coker late in his team's loss to Florida State on Sept. 4. It has become a case study for the many critics of the change-of-possession rule. Trailing 13--10 with 2:19 left and having given the ball back to the Seminoles on a punt, Coker called one of his three timeouts before Florida State even snapped the ball.
Not every coach is opposed to the change. After all, the rules committee is made up of a dozen current and former coaches, including Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, who sees a chance for innovation. "I think you're going to see a faster tempo from the offenses," he told Florida Today.
But why didn't the rules committee just adopt some of the commonsense timing standards used in the NFL, in which halftime is 12 minutes instead of 20, the clock doesn't stop while the chains are being reset after a first down and the average length of a game in 2005 was 3:08? The panel recommended shortening halftime to 15 minutes, but the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel said that marching bands needed 20 minutes to perform. As for eliminating the clock stoppages on first down, it would have been the only thing more unpopular with coaches than the new change-of-possession policy. "That's sacred to the coaches," says John Adams, the secretary and rules editor of the committee. "We've proposed that many times over the years, and they've always been unanimously against it."
Adams hastens to add that the timekeeping procedures can be revisited by the committee at the end of the season. "This is a one-year trial," he says. "I don't think it's fair to decide after two weeks."