Like Clockwork

Coaches glad clock rules will be back to normal this fall

May 30, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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The NCAA's attempt to speed up games, and avoid the dreaded four hour, four quarter regular season marathon, was a miserable failure last fall.


After introducing legislation before the start of last season to alter clock procedures, in what the NCAA deemed an "experiment," the changes were widely panned as ridiculous, silly and impractical - all in the name of making the game fit more conveniently into the three hour time slots that television had carved out for each game. 


Just about every coach in the country put in his two cents, and a good majority of them hated the changes that called for the clock to run immediately upon kick-offs, possession changes and the ready-for-play signal following first downs. All in all, it knocked about 14 minutes off the average game time and reduced the number of plays by roughly 13-14 per game.




Everyone's for quicker games, but not at the expense of losing plays, creating controversy and general discontent, and coaches made it known.


Oregon's Mike Bellotti was "appalled" by the changes while Oklahoma's Bob Stoops voiced his displeasures, as well as alternatives to shortening overall game times. They were just two of the many coaches around the country who were outspoken and unhappy.


Those outcries were a big reason why the NCAA took a good, hard look at the changes it made this off-season. And after doing so, the organization decided that the new ways were no longer worth the trouble, reversing the rules changes to the clock.  


So come this fall, the clock will start when the ball is caught, rather than kicked, and it will stop when there's a change of possession, rather than started. The subsequent change back were welcomed, yet also left a few coaches scratching their heads at the NCAA's reneging. 


"It's interesting they went right back to it. I don't know why we did it in the first place," Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said. "It was an okay look at it I guess."


For those who predicted the rules changes wouldn't have a big effect on the game were proven wrong. And while the initial goal of the rules changes - to shorten game times - was achieved, other subsequent consequences the NCAA wasn't shooting for became a reality.


Aside from the reduced game times and number of plays, scoring averages went down along with yards gained.  And one of the biggest gripes came from the fact that games were speeding up in the fourth quarter, rather than slowing down, thus preventing comeback attempts. A team with the ball and a lead with just a few minutes left to play meant, more often than not, that the game was over. Those lost seconds in the third and early fourth quarter quickly added up. Teams were either sprinting upon changes of possession to get to the line of scrimmage or milking the entire 25 seconds before snapping the ball.


"Taking a knee went out of style," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.


Never were teams able to waste so much time as the game neared its end.  


"It just seems like the NCAA was not happy with the controversy of the clock starting and then the game's over," Spurrier said.


Now, come fall, coaches and fans can expect a more "normal" game.


"I guess they want more plays and make it like football's always been," Spurrier said.


"I think they did a good thing going back to managing the clock differently so you can get more plays," Fulmer said.


So scoring should return to its pre-2006 level, and that will make everyone happy.


The re-institution of the old rules also assure us of never seeing a repeat of Wisconsin's ingenious strategy against Penn State last November, where the Badgers simply ran off-sides during second-quarter kickoffs to waste away the clock in their 13-3 win.


New Alabama coach Nick Saban, fresh off his two year stint in Miami with the NFL's Dolphins, is all for the clock changes. A totally different one, in fact.  


"I've always been an advocate of the 40 second clock," Saban said. "It at least gives the pace of the game some consistency which the NFL has."


Listening to Saban, you can tell he isn't the biggest fan of the clock stopping after every first down. He likes the flow of NFL games, which face the same TV time constraints as college games and arguably have had greater success meeting them, despite the fact they generally feature fewer plays than a typical college game. 


"I think people should be open-minded to about some of things the NFL does relative to game management and speed of the game because they've spent a lot of time, money and research on seeing what the best ways to do that is," Saban said. "Some of those things are very good and the good things would probably be good for college football as well."


But almost everyone aggress the best thing for the college game is to use the old clock rules. More time means more offense and more offense means more scoring and more scoring means more fun. The NCAA took away the chance to see some record breaking performances last season. Why limit Steve Slaton's chances to run the ball, or Colt Brennan's opportunities to throw the ball? Why make it so much harder for teams to comeback?


"The fans are there to be entertained and support their teams and are getting back to a normal game they're accustomed to," Fulmer said.


For that, we can thank the NCAA. For once.