Time for change? College football coaches debate proposals aimed at reducing length of games

TCU enjoyed an unforgettable run to the College Football Playoff Championship game in 2022, a ride that included an all-time classic against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl and four second-half comebacks in the Big 12 game.

Remember when kicker Griffin Kell climbed onto the field for a walk-off field goal on Nov. 22, 2022 to beat Baylor 29-28 to keep those playoff hopes alive? Every second counted for the Horned Frogs. That’s why TCU coach Sonny Dykes supports the current cadence rules in college football.

“I think that’s one of the things that makes college football unique,” Dykes told Sporting News. “You can collect points quickly because this clock stops. That leads to some really exciting degrees and some opportunities to make some significant comebacks in college football. For me that would be one of the last options I would change.”

On Feb. 20, Sports Illustrated reported that college football executives are considering four clock rule proposals aimed at reducing the length of seasons — which averaged three hours and 21 minutes in 2022. These proposals have sparked debate among FBS coaches, who wonder if a style change would offer substance when it comes to the possibility of reducing seasons. ESPN reports that those leaders are meeting in Indianapolis this week, and “the Rules Committee is expected to release any proposed changes on Friday, which will ultimately require approval by the Game Rules Board in April.”

College football proposed clock rule changes

– The clock started after first downs on the field before the last two minutes of each half.

– The clock would start after incomplete passes as soon as the ball was spotted before the last two minutes of each half.

– Coaches would be prohibited from calling back-to-back time-outs.

– Untimed downs after a defensive penalty in the first quarter or third quarter would be eliminated.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said the watch rules are a stylistic separator from professional football. Calhoun acknowledged that the NFL is doing a great job of keeping games “in that 2:40 to 2:55 delta.” For this reason, these proposals are being examined.

“I want to make sure we preserve the styles of play in college football,” Calhoun told SN. “I think what makes us totally unique from the NFL is that you can go really, really fast or slower. There’s a number of different things quarterbacks can do in terms of skill and what we ask of them. There’s the array of defensive covers and fronts that you see in college play. It’s a lot bigger than in the NFL.

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But this is where the debate intensifies. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is a former defensive coordinator who sees the benefit of letting the clock advance on first downs outside of two minutes each half.

“I agree with that,” Narduzzi told SN. “To me, as much as we can model our game after the NFL, why shouldn’t we? These kids all want to play at the next level. Why not just stay like this? You could cut seven minutes off the TV show. That’s a good rule.”

What else did these coaches have to say about the proposed rule changes?

Should the clock stop on the first down?

TCU plays in the fast-paced Big 12 — and the Horned Frogs still finished eighth in the conference averaging 69.9 games per game. The Air Force runs the triple option offense that led the FBS to ball possession at 36:27 last season. These philosophical differences are part of the appeal of the college game. Calhoun said they would adapt to a possible rule change but continue to support the current rule where the clock stops on the first descent.

“The good thing is that if you want to be an offense that uses a good chunk of the 40-second clock, you can,” Calhoun said. “If you want to be an offense who wants to snap at 32 seconds, as long as you can’t switch out, you can. That part of it is really good for college football, but I understand the idea that we need to reduce the number of plays for player safety.”

But that’s where the debate begins. Do these rule changes affect player safety or shorten the game? The Panthers were 71.7 games per game in 2022, but Narduzzi believes the second suggestion – which would keep the clock ticking after an incomplete pass – wouldn’t help.

“It’s a bit off the wall,” Narduzzi said. “I think when you talk to most offense coaches they want that clock to stop so they can get more games. I’m a defensive coach. What will happen is that these offensive coaches will speed up the game and try to get as many plays as possible. This counteracts the security concerns. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than players going out and playing when they’re tired.”

Dykes isn’t in favor of this rule change either, and his response was more open.

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“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Dykes said. “I thought that was pretty silly, you know?”

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What about consecutive timeouts?

The suggestion of untimed downs at the end of the first and third quarters met little resistance, but the back-to-back timeouts lead to another intriguing debate. The rule is geared towards icing a kicker at the end of a half or game.

“Not twice,” Calhoun said. “It makes perfect sense. Just taking a break in this situation is totally understandable.”

Narduzzi took the opposite view, and that has nothing to do with the spirit of this proposed change.

“Coaches save their time-outs for a reason,” said Narduzzi. “I hate penalizing a team – and I could care less about icing the kicker. This is a bunch of bullshit. If you ice it once, what’s the difference in doing it again?”

Narduzzi recalled a situation against Duke where the Panthers led 28-26 in the last minute against Duke on November 22, 2022. Narduzzi took advantage of multiple timeouts after the Blue Devils showed their onside kick alignment. The Panthers recovered the eventual try and won the game.

“It was an advantage for me,” said Narduzzi. “I used one and they came out in a different formation. Time-out. It’s all strategy. That’s why they pay us as coaches.”

It’s the length of some of those timeouts that all three coaches conceded due to commercials and publicity being part of the games.

“We’re ready to play a lot of football and we wait a lot on the networks and I understand that advertising foots those bills,” Dykes said. “Let’s talk about those possibilities before we start talking about radical changes in game timing.”

Knowing that’s unlikely to change, coaches still have questions about the proposals.

Player safety and alternatives

Would the new clock suggestions shorten the game, reduce the number of games and increase player security? That’s the question that worries Calhoun the most. He wonders how much the number of cumulative snaps would change if these watch proposals were approved.

“If anyone mentions exposures — and if we average 20 more plays than the NFL — I could see from a player’s health perspective where that would be an issue,” Calhoun said. “If Major League Baseball plays seven days a week and they play nine-inning games, we don’t play 11 innings in college baseball. I understand that part.”

However, Narduzzi isn’t sure the proposals would make much of a difference from that standpoint, especially if the college football playoffs are expanded.

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“They conveniently say that when they think that’s good, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” Narduzzi said. “You’ve talked for years about how to shorten the game before a 12-team playoff is even a distant thought, and now you’re approaching the 18-game NFL season.”

Dykes aimed to review the replay process as a better means of reducing seasons. preference being given to limiting the review to games with a specified mileage or change of ownership outside the two minute mark.

“There’s a fine line between all of these things,” Dykes said. “I can’t tell you how many games I’ve been in where they checked three or four straight games and it was in the first quarter. You sit there and think, ‘The ball is in midfield. I don’t know how important this game will be in the ball game.

Narduzzi said that would only work if all conferences have different replay procedures in their stadiums.

“I think you have to do it right,” said Narduzzi. “I don’t have a red flag. I can only use a timeout. These are not NFL officials. These are college officials. There are so many discrepancies in different stages. There are only 32 teams in the NFL. Everyone must do the same. We can’t control what happens when we play in the SEC or the Big Ten.

Need more time before switching?

The average college halftime is 20 minutes, but Calhoun supports that difference as the band’s performances are part of college football’s pageantry — which is another difference from the NFL.

“We don’t want our games to get too much shorter because we still have to sell some hot dogs and popcorn here,” Calhoun said. “I understand, from a player’s perspective, why we want to do what makes the most sense.”

Narduzzi supports some of these changes, although he believes the unintended consequences may not benefit players.

“If you want to shorten the game, shorten the game,” Narduzzi said. “Players don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, they saved us five games a game for 12 games. Those 10 games they could cut away at most is nothing more than another week of practice and that grinds with a longer season.”

For everything else, Dykes sees a need for more information. With all of the changes college football has seen in the past few years, this might make the most sense before the clock turns.

“Is it about player safety or are the games too long?” Dykes asked. “I don’t know if we know what the actual conversation is. That needs to be defined first of all before we start talking about rule changes.”

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