College football leaders are meeting in Indianapolis this week to consider three rule changes that could shorten seasons and reduce the number of games during next season’s games in 2024.
Rule changes under consideration include: running the clock after a first down except in the last two minutes of each half; Elimination of the option for teams to require consecutive team timeouts; and carry over all fouls to the next period instead of ending in an untimed down.
Steve Shaw, NCAA football secretary, rules editor and official coordinator, told ESPN on Tuesday that the combined changes are estimated to reduce average game length by seven to eight minutes and eight games.
According to Shaw, college football games have averaged 180 games per game over the past three regular seasons and typically last three hours and 21 minutes.
“About a year ago we started looking at not just the clock, but the number of games per game, the exposure of students and athletes, and that’s really become more of the direction now, led by our commissioners.” said Shaw. “With the focus on player health and safety and the CFP and the expanded playoffs that could create more games for players, is it appropriate to look at what these numbers of student and athlete exposure are?”
The Rules Committee and Competitions Committee are meeting together this week, and the Rules Committee is expected to publish any proposed changes on Friday, which will ultimately need approval by the Game Rules Board in April.
Shaw said the idea behind the first-down switch was to keep the game going but preserve the uniqueness of the last two minutes of the half.
“For me, that’s a nice difference between the college game and the NFL game, which is two minutes,” Shaw said. “Even if you don’t have a time-out, a first down gives you an opportunity to get on the ball and take a snap. It makes for an exciting ending to the game.”
It’s unexciting when the defense uses all three remaining timeouts to freeze the opposing kicker’s manageable 40-yard field goal attempt and he still ends up getting three straight kicks. By eliminating a team’s ability to call back-to-back timeouts, this scenario would go away.
The proposed penalty change would affect the end of the first and third quarters by not extending it if a foul is accepted. If there is currently an accepted penalty for a foul on the last completed quarter of a quarter – by either team – the officials will extend the quarter. Under this proposed change, they would not do so in the first and third quarters; instead they would walk away the penalty and start the next quarter.
“It doesn’t happen often,” Shaw said. “But when it happens, you save time and save a train in the game.”
Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen, who chairs the NCAA’s competition committee, told ESPN that there was “very little opposition” to the proposed changes, but that more research needed to be done.
“While the idea of reducing games makes a lot of sense, I don’t know that anyone knows what the nominal number of games is,” he said. “I look at the three proposals alive here as perhaps a starting point, not necessarily an end.
“There must be a few more [data on] Find out injuries – are there more injuries in Game 12 than in Game 1? Are there more injuries in the fourth quarter than in the first? I think that can be done over the next season to inform if further steps need to be taken.”
While targeting on Saturdays remains one of the most discussed rules in the fall, Shaw said there likely won’t be any major changes to the rule this spring. He pointed to the fact that 16 targeted fouls were awarded last year, which is proof the rule works.
“It means there are less high hits,” he said. “That will be an area that we will continue to look at and talk about. Targeting will not go away. But overall, the targeting rule does what we want it to do.”
Another possible rule change that has been discussed but hasn’t found overwhelming support is restarting the game clock after an incomplete pass when the ball is ready to play. Currently the clock stops on an incomplete pass – and would continue to do so – but it would restart when the ball is put down and the official walks away.
Shaw said that this concept “might be more volatile” and that unlike the other proposed changes that are the most debated, the idea of an incomplete pass could force teams to change their strategy after an incomplete pass in order to incur game losses avoid.
Shaw said nobody aspires for college football to reach a certain number of games per game.
“We don’t have that,” he said. “I think there’s a recognition that reducing student and athlete exposure is the right thing to do, especially when you have potential for more games, and let’s look at that after a year and see: did that hit the mark? do we have to do It gives us the opportunity not to change the game dramatically, but to continue to observe and study it.
“I don’t think this is a one off issue that will go away after our Rules Committee meeting. I think that will be something [people] – especially the commissioners – will continue to keep an eye on the health and safety of the players.”
If the CFP expands to 12 teams in 2024, it’s unlikely but possible that a team could play 17 games in a season, including the conference championship game, a first-round game, a quarterfinals, a semifinals and a national championship — plus the 12 Regular season games.
Dannen said player safety must remain a top priority regardless of the CFP expansion.
“The fact that we’re going to add a game or two for two to four schools maybe, I think, maybe gives a nudge to look at that particular aspect of the game because it really hasn’t been looked at before,” he said. “… It seems like no matter what rules you change, the coaches will find a way to get what they want and adapt and that’s how the rules try to catch up with the coaches. So I think that’s that is a good step forward, assuming it keeps going, but it’s by no means an endgame.”
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