A couple of weeks ago, we told you about some new rule changes implemented by Major League Baseball to speed up the game. But, if you haven’t noticed, college football games are taking longer than ever these days, too. While they averaged 3 hours 17 minutes in 2013, thus far, in 2022, college football games are running an average of 3 hours 32 minutes. What’s slowing up play and how can it be fixed? Consider these factors:
More Replay Reviews
The NCAA began allowing replay reviews in 2005. Since then, college games average just two reviews per game, each one averaging about two minutes. While four minutes may not seem like forever, that’s an extra four minutes where nothing happens during the game. It can be an important four minutes, but it’s an extra four minutes, or more, that are pushing college games longer.
While the NFL limits reviews to coaches’ challenges and the last two minutes of each half, college games can be stopped for review by coaches or officials at any time, though college coaches must call a timeout to do so. That often leads to more replay reviews and even longer delays. Could the NCAA put a time limit on replay reviews? Possibly, but that could be counterproductive in reviews where officials run out of time to review every angle of a given play.
In the 1976 Oklahoma – Nebraska game, the Sooners attempted their first pass with 3:30 left in the game and finished with two completions on two attempts. Granted, the Sooners ran the run-heavy, triple-option Wishbone offense back then, so passing was never a priority. Obviously, today’s college football game features a lot more passing than there was 46 years ago. One might think that more passing would mean more clock stoppages, but incomplete passes have actually decreased slightly on average in the last 20 years. However, completed passes mean more first downs. More first downs also mean the clock stops more. However you look at it, more clock stoppages means longer games.
The NCAA could make some small tweaks to minimize those clock stoppages. That includes restarting the clock after the ball is set for play after an incompletion, or simply no longer stopping the clock after first downs. While both of those changes could penalize an offense fighting the clock to catch up, that could be minimized by teams going no-huddle and hustling back to the line of scrimmage.
One other effect caused by the increase in college football’s high-powered passing offense is more scoring. In 2002, college football games combined for an average of 9.1 touchdowns and field goals per game. In 2022, that number has risen to 10.3. More scoring leads to…
More Television Timeouts
Television networks usually have a minimum of four commercial breaks each quarter, each one running from 30 seconds to three minutes. Inevitably, breaks after touchdowns or field goals stretch to two or three minutes. Add that up, and that’s 13 minutes a quarter and almost an hour of game delays for TV timeouts. As just about every game is televised in some form these days, they all have TV timeouts and run longer.
Granted, networks are limited in the length and quantity of TV timeouts they can run. But they also charge advertisers big money for those TV spots, so don’t expect the number of TV timeouts to change. What could change, if the networks and advertisers get on board, is in-game advertising. That is, some form of TV ads that during the game telecast, such as during measurements or timeouts. Networks have experimented with it in the past, but it would need to be expanded to make a notable difference.
While most believe college football has changed for the better with more passing, replay review, and more comprehensive television coverage, those changes take time, literally. And to shorten the time now needed to play a college football game, the NCAA and the networks need to adapt and change too.