College Football 2017: State of the Game, Part III
Length of Games – It’s ridiculous, and getting worse. In 2013 the average time-of-game was 3 hours 17 minutes. In 2016 it was 3 hours 24 minutes. Those seven minutes might not seem like much, but think of it in terms of weather. The Weather Channel might tell you that last summer’s average temperature was just 2 degrees higher than normal, but it sure felt like it was a lot hotter than that. Same principle. And people’s attention spans probably aren’t going to adjust to accommodate these longer games. And if the networks start losing viewers, and hence ad revenue, then that only compounds the consequences of the cord-cutting phenomenon discussed in Part II. So the powers-that-be in college football really ought to work towards shorter game times. I have a few suggestions:
1. This one is easy….keep the clock running on made first downs. With the pace at which college football offenses run nowadays, the difference should be negligible in terms of the number of snaps in a game. And it should be good to shave off a minute or so in game length. If you to preserve the stoppage on first downs inside of 2 minutes in each half to preserve the opportunity of making them interesting, thats fine. But it’s unnecessary for the other 56 minutes of game time.
2. Shorten halftimes. Sorry, marching bands, but that means you won’t have time to take the field. I know, it’s killing one of the great traditions of college football. But really, every other great tradition has been slaughtered at the altar of the money pile, so why make this one so sacred?
3. Make replay reviews a faster process. More conferences seem to be going to the “collaborative replay review” that the ACC and SEC used last season whereby the booth official interacts with a command center at conference HQ to review questionable calls made on the field. The Big 12, Pac 12 and Sun Belt will follow suit with that model this season. The Big Ten had an arrangement where the booth official confers with the head official on the field who has a monitor brought to him (the MAC will experiment with the same model this coming season).
Anecdotally, the involved parties say collaboration is for the better. I don’t imagine enough data exists to make such claims yet, but we’ll see. Either way, replay reviews could stand to have tweaks that would make them far more timely and efficient than they have been. This will not only shorten game times but it will also lessen the impact of disruptions to the flow of the game, which some will argue can affect the outcome just as much as a bad/overturned call.
If nothing else, then for goodness sake whomever is ultimately responsible for making the final call be more decisive. If you have seen every angle a couple times and still aren’t sure, let the call stand and play on!
4. If you want to take a bolder step, start the clock after incomplete passes as soon as the ball is spotted for the next play, with the exception of end-of-half situations.
One last word on the this. I’d be willing to bet that the change in college football’s “targeting” rule, where the targeting judgement call (but not the head-to-head contact and 15-yard penalty) is now reviewable, has played a part in lengthening games. I can live with that though; both keeping the targeting rule and making it subject to review. Both the health of players, as well as the possibility of handing down an unwarranted 1-game suspension, is too important just to save a couple minutes time.
Early Signing Period – College football will hold its first early NLI signing window this year from Dec 20-22. I offer my thoughts on this based on who I think are the winners and losers, and why.
Recruits: NCAA rules allow, with some exceptions, programs to sign a maximum of 25 players in a given recruiting cycle. Yet when you peruse the recruiting services and see how many scholarship offers a particular school has extended at any given time, it could be 200 or more (it should be noted the schools themselves don’t, and can’t, publicly state how many offers they’ve extended…all this data comes from recruits who claim they were extended an offer). That means that an “offer” many times isn’t what you think, it’s just a, “We’re interested in you, but we’re more interested in a couple other guys we think are better than you. So just wait in line and maybe you’ll get your chance.” Sometimes recruits don’t learn whether an “offer” is valid until just days before Signing Day. That can be tough on a kid making what is likely the biggest decision of his life so far. And it can be even tougher if other real offers he has might disappear while he waits on a decision from his top choice.
An early signing period will now bring some clarity to this 6 weeks earlier. If it’s Dec 20th, and you have have the LOI sitting in front of you from your 2nd or 3rd favorite school, simply waiting for your signature, but nothing in the mail from #1, you now have the chance to take the sure thing while it’s there and be happy you came away with one of your top choices. On the other hand, if you want to roll the dice that your first choice will come through by the traditional Signing Day, you can still do that too.
Mid-tier Power Five Programs: It’s not hard to make the leap, if you hold the above to be true, to envision that programs in this tier could end up signing more of their top realistic targets. These are the high 3-star players who have enough upside to catch the attention of the elite programs, but have to play the waiting game for the 4/5-star dominoes to fall first, which often doesn’t happen until well into January. For a mid-tier program, having more of these players signed early would not only give the coaches a measure of security headed into bowl season, but it could make recruiting some of the other guys still on the fence a little easier come January.
Elite Academic Programs: If you’re a Stanford or Northwestern, and you are all-in on a kid who is on the margins academically for your school’s admission standards, and you don’t have the benefit of his fall transcript before having to decide whether or not to send the paperwork in December, that decision becomes really tough. If you send the paperwork, he signs, and then you find out he had a subpar fall semester, then you might have to hope he liked you enough to go to prep school first and try again next year (unlikely), plus scramble to find someone comparable as a player who can also gain admission at a late stage of the game (good luck). On the other hand, taking the cautious approach and waiting until February could potentially cost you a kid who could have been a great contributor to your program, because he signed with someone who did send him paperwork in December, if only you weren’t forced to speed up the process.
Coaches: It’s easy to demonize coaches for how they handle recruiting, and the criticisms aren’t necessarily inaccurate or unfair. But these guys have to do whatever it takes – within boundaries that can be both strict and blurred – to come away with the best players they can get from a high-stakes process in which there is little room for scruples. Their livelihoods depend on it.
Add to the above that coaches are typically personalities who hate both change and loss of control. Also understandable, considering how much they are held accountable for (albeit for a very handsome income). But the early signing period forces them to do both of those things; having to show their hand before the card game is over alters their existing SOP, and thus removes some of the control they had over the recruiting process. So it’s no surprise that a few coaches at big-time programs have been the most vocal opponents of the early signing period. Though in typical fashion they managed to voice their displeasure in the most disingenuous of ways, framing it as though this will somehow hurt recruits more than anyone. Please.