The Oklahoman

Television driving desire to shorten CFB games

- Berry Tramel Columnist The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

College football games are too long, and here's how you know.

They don't fit the television windows.

Hate to break it to you, but TV drives the college football train. Kickoff times, conference realignmen­t, the brand of hay fed to mascots. It all filters through the television strain.

So when news broke this week that college football decision-makers were given four ideas to speed up games, there's no mystery why.

ESPN and Fox don't want to shift the kickoff of Michigan State-Penn State to ESPNews or Fox Sports2. They don't want to send viewers to the ESPN or Fox apps. If Baylor-Kansas State is scheduled to kick off at 2:35 p.m. on ABC, the network wants the game to kick off at 2:35 p.m. on ABC.

Too many games bleed into the next window. College football Saturdays are a stairstep of games. ESPN, Fox, ESPN2, Fox Sports1, ABC, ESPNU, they all routinely schedule games immediatel­y following another. In Oklahoma, that usually means 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 9:30 p.m. There are occasional variances, but that's generally the model.

And when one game bleeds over into another, it's like airline schedules. Everything gets backed up, or people miss their flight.

I still remember the frustratio­n of trying to watch the 3 p.m. kickoff of the 1979 OU-Texas game. Game 4 of the World Series started at noon on ABC. The Orioles beat the Pirates 9-6 — despite Willie Stargell's massive solo homer to centerfield at old Three Rivers Stadium — but the game lasted 12 minutes shy of four hours. OU-Texas was in the second quarter when ABC got to the game.

The networks now at least have options for such runovers, but they aren't conducive to fans taping the game or fans who aren't stream-savvy.

The games need to fit the windows. Maybe hard-core fans don't mind the four-hour game. But no one else likes it, in the stadium or in your La-Z-Boy.

Shortening games also would come with the added benefit of enhancing player safety. Shorter games, meaning fewer plays, would decrease injury exposure. There is an element of the

NCAA and universiti­es who care greatly about that. Starting with the lawyers, who constantly must deal with liability issues or lawsuits.

The networks don't care about such responsibi­lities but don't mind carrying the bucket for such a cause.

The proposal includes four rule changes — two massive and two inconseque­ntial. The massive changes:

❚ Letting the clock run after a first down, until the final two minutes of each half. The National Football League does not stop the clock for a first down.

❚ Letting the clock run after the ball is spotted following an incomplete pass. Currently, the clock stops after all incompleti­ons and does not start until the next snap.

I would vote yes on the first-down change, no on the incompleti­on change.

The first-down rule is the biggest difference between college and pro timing rules. Each plays 60-minute games; the NFL last season averaged 155 plays per game, major-college football 180.

Big difference. Twenty-five plays is the difference between Auburn-Ole Miss kicking off on time or not.

The incompleti­on proposal seems to go too far. Besides, we don't know it's ramifications.

That's the beauty of the first-down timing change. College football doesn't need to study the issue deeply. It has decade after decade of NFL data to deliver the results. We know exactly the effects of that timing model, because of the NFL.

No one knows the ramifications of the incompleti­on proposal, because it's never been implemente­d in any kind of traditiona­l football.

NCAA analysts estimate the firstdown change would reduce games by seven plays. They also estimate the incompleti­on change would reduce games by 18-20 plays. Seems a little excessive.

The other two proposals have little effect on most games. No more consecutiv­e timeouts (usually seen when trying to mess with a kicker in the final seconds of a game), and no more extending the first or third quarters with an untimed down after a defensive penalty.

No one knows what will happen next week in Indianapol­is. The football rules committee includes members from all divisions, and game time is no issue on the Division II or Division III level.

We know why games are so long — interminab­le television commercial­s. But that's what fills the coffers, so don't even bring it up.

Division II and Division III don't have such delays. Their games check in at well under three hours. Division II and Division III also don't pay their coaches $7 million a year or employ 80 people just within the football program.

The average major-college game lasted 3:21 last season. That's under the 3:30 desired time. But that also includes quick games. And we haven't even considered overtime.

The games must get shorter. The lawyers advise it so that the NCAA can argue in court that it is working to enhance safety. And the networks want it, which means even more.

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