College football needs to drop this identity crisis and just be college football. Enough with the clock changes, adopting NFL rules and damaging the integrity of the sport just to shorten games by 15 minutes.
For the third time in three years (translation: “We have no idea what we’re doing!”) the NCAA is tinkering with college football rules, even though no one was really complaining in the first place.
In 2006, you remember, the NCAA made all these time-saving rule changes, including starting the clock after a change of possession, and an entire nation said, “Hey, this is dumb,” and most of the rules were eradicated in 2007. Games lasted 3 hours, 22 minutes last year, an increase of just 15 minutes from 2006. Fifteen minutes. That’s it.
But, no, they changed the rules again. The NCAA is adopting a 40-second clock a lot like the NFL, done to improve the consistency of spotting the ball. To shorten games, the NCAA will start the clock on ready-for-play after a ball carrier goes out of bounds. All in the name of 15 minutes.
College football is not the NFL. College football is a celebration. College football is bands and (insert team nickname) Walks and tailgating the night before and donors and students and every game counts. The NFL, no question, is great in its own way. But, NCAA officials, hardly anyone involved with college football wants to see 2 hour, 53 minute games. Believe it.
After talking to some coaches and officials this week, I’m envisioning three issues with the new rule changes:
n Incredible hypocrisy from the NCAA: Shocking, I know. The purpose of shortening the games is player safety. Fine. But the NCAA also added the 40-second game clock, which means the ball will be spotted faster, which means more plays. And players get injured during plays, not standing on the sideline during a TV timeout or sitting in the locker room when the bands are playing.
There’s a reason Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin loves this rule. The increasingly popular spread offense — even nine Big Ten teams are going to use some principles of it — is built for no-huddle and more plays. The pace of the game will increase dramatically. As ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said, “The tempo of the game is going to pick up, no doubt. We’ll find out which teams are in condition.”
n Fewer comebacks: Since the clock will restart as soon as the ball is set ready for play after a ball carrier goes out of bounds (until the last two minutes of each half) and the play clock is now 40 seconds in most instances, teams can more easily run out the clock at the end of the game. This is the rule that was established to shorten the game.
Running backs no longer need to worry about drifting out of bounds with 2:20 remaining and a lead. He can get out of bounds and the offense can wipe 40 more seconds off the clock.
n Celebration penalties: Look, I don’t necessarily want to see Usain Bolt-like celebrations after a touchdown, but the unsportsmanlike penalties you will see this season will border on ridiculous. Unsportsmanlike penalties are a point of emphasis this season, meaning every fist pump will be scrutinized.
“We’re going to back our officials even if they are a little strict,” said Dave Parry, the Big Ten supervisor of officials and the first national coordinator for College Football Officiating, LLC.
To expect these athletes not to react at all following a big play is to act like they’re not humans. Football players possess emotions and instincts and the need to express themselves. Why? Because they are human beings.
Snorting the line in celebration — soccer player Robbie Fowler actually did this — is obviously way too far. But some of the minor, and now illegal, celebrations that SEC coordinator of officials Rogers Redding showed us at media days were harmless.
College football is still a wonderful game. Some of the changes, like banning the horse-collar tackle and establishing a national officiating organization so referees from different conferences call the game the same way, are really good. But college football is at its best when it’s simply college football and not trying to be someone else.