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OBSERVATIONS ON COLLEGE SPORTS
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Gold Nuggets
Monday, May 14, 2007
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By Adam Gold
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Adam Gold is program director of the Triangle's "850 the Buzz" and host of "The G-spot with Adam Gold" on weekdays from 3-7 p.m.

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Timing isn't everything

By Adam Gold
©2007 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

In a past life I used to work in network radio. In one of my many roles, I was the studio host for major college football games. I anchored from Washington, while the broadcast crew handled things from the stadium du jour. I gave scores, produced feature stories and covered the sport while they covered the game.

Back during the Andre Ware and David Klingler days at the University of Houston, the Cougars threw the ball 50 times a game as a rule. It was fun to watch, I’m sure it was fun to play, and I know it was fun for the highlight reels.

But, it wasn’t fun if you were double parked, had a plane to catch, or wanted to have dinner with your wife on a Saturday night.

The games took nearly four hours to play — and we missed our reservations downtown.

Clearly, that was an extreme case, but over the last several years college football games had crept up to the point that the 3½-hour television window isn’t long enough to hold the entire game. Games that kick off at 3:30 spill over into the 7 o’clock hour with so much regularity that it’s almost unnoticeable.

Last year, the NCAA did something about it. A rules oversight panel, with input from the American Football Coaches Association, approved changes to the way the game was timed that would hopefully shorten the game and get everyone home before “Meet the Press” Sunday morning.

The clock did not stop following a change of possession, something not really glaring in the middle of the second quarter of a 10-10 game, but fairly critical when your alma mater was racing onto the field down by a score with a minute to go. All the while your rivals were taking their sweet time getting back onto the field. Why should they be in any hurry, right?

On kickoffs, the clock started when the kicker made contact with the ball instead of when the ball was fielded by the returning team. The time saved was roughly five seconds. I’m not entirely sure why this change was implemented, but it created the hilarious scenario of teams intentionally going offsides to waste more time.

Whether you liked those changes or loathed them, there was no mistaking the fact that they were effective. Games were — on average — 14 minutes shorter in 2006 than in 2005, thus providing more time for Lee Corso to don his Brutus the Buckeye swollen nut head.

Coaches, however, were unhappy with the “new” game. They found that the new timing method cost them anywhere from 10-15 plays per game and that it was more difficult for teams to rally from second-half deficits.

Let’s handle these issues separately, starting with the latter one:

If teams were finding it more difficult to rally in the fourth quarter it was likely because they stunk up the stadium for the first 55 minutes, so I’m just going to dismiss this complaint out of hand.

If the head coach couldn’t figure out that a quicker-paced game — with what amounted to a running clock as in soccer — meant that you had to get into your “hurry up” offense a little earlier, then said head coach might just want to look in the mirror to find his problem. Yogi Berra, that noted philosopher/football fan, used to say, “It get’s late early out there.”

Oh, the genius of Yogi.

The other complaint was staggering. When the coaches signed off on the new timing rules, just where did they think the gains were coming from? A shortened game was always going to have fewer plays. They didn’t think the networks were going to give up commercial time, did they?

The coaches were smart enough to recognize that their game was dragging closer and closer to the four-hour mark and that something had to be done, yet they were too dumb to realize that any changes to the timing rules would result in fewer plays.

I’m starting to think that playbooks are a little too big for these guys. Maybe that’s why everyone’s got color-coded cheat sheets and the quarterbacks have the game plans on their wrist bands.

So, those rules are gone and we’re headed back to the 2005 system in 2007 — with some alterations. They’ll kick off from the 30 instead of the 35, with the intention of having fewer touchbacks. And, after media timeouts, teams will have 15 — instead of 25 — seconds to run a play. That ought to cut out a good minute to a minute and a half from your average Pirates game.

It’s clear that the coaches don’t want a shorter game at all, and I’m not sure that anyone else — except maybe sportswriters on deadline — cares either. I mean, I don’t see a lot of people staring at their watch at Dowdy-Ficklen, do you?

So, you have to ask yourself why they did this in the first place.

If you really want to change the way the game is timed for the better, the solution is so simple it’s scary. Adopt the NFL clock.

Unlike in college, the pro clock runs after a first down. The clock continues to run when a player goes out of bounds with the ball, except in the closing two minutes of the first half and the final five minutes of the second half. And, we get the two-minute warning.

The NFL does a lot of things right, and they know all about making their game TV-friendly, so why not just copy its proven formula for timing the game.

I’m not suggesting that we make all the players wear their socks exactly alike, or only allow the coaches to wear suits made by Reebok. All I’m saying is that NFL games are often over in less than three hours.

Yes, there are fewer plays.

‘But, tell me this, Einstein in a headset,' you say. 'How do you propose we shorten the game without reducing the number plays?’

Whenever a football buddy tells you that Coach So and So is a genius, remind him of this issue. He'll be cured forever.

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06/19/2007 07:59:45 PM

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