We've been trying to get the new clock rules straight in our head, and trying to figure out if the email response two of our intrepid readers from Michael Clark, Bridgewater College head coach and head of the NCAA Football Rules committee, makes any sense whatsoever.
Clark's response to readers Mitch and Chris, who both got this response to their protests of the proposed new clock rules.
"NFL studies showed that adding the 25-40 clock will actually add 4 to 5 plays per game based on consistent pace of play. BCS Football and officials themselves were for this change. With the ready for play, live ball out of bounds rules, (This happens about 12 times per game, with on average 3 of those in last 2 minutes) we should get the same amount of plays in a time span that is a few minutes shorter. For the record it is BCS football, TV, Conference Commissioners with lengthy seasons and television that leads the push for faster games. The Committee's stance is that the game has given about all it can give back without a negative influence on product. Next move will have to be from Administrators or Television themselves. It is still a great game. MC"
Beginning with the caveat that our mathematical skills are somewhere in the simian range, we actually asked other people to help us out, essentially admitting FAIL and going to the phone-a-friend for this: a Georgia Tech Ph.D ("too many factors, unsure,") a former finance guy, and a few others who all seemed equally baffled by what would actually happen if the new rules were implemented, and if Michael Clark is being--ahem!--disingenuous with his numbers here.
Less football equals more football, people! Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to take a healthy cigarette break.
If you're dealing with forty seconds between plays, you're talking NFL clock rules here.
Take the status quo from this Ivan Maisel quote from an article on why college ball is superior to the NFL:
All those commercials and yet the games are shorter. What does that mean? Less football! NFL teams ran an average of 62.5 offensive plays per game last season. Division I-A teams ran an average of 70.6 offensive plays. And don't tell me that college games last longer. Yes, they averaged 3:06 and the NFL averaged 3:01, but that's explained by halftime. College halftimes last 20 minutes; the NFL, 12.
So half the problem with the time is halftime to begin with--an entirely different tweak of the rules, so we'll shelve it for now. (Less alumni stroking and introductions of the swim team? Saints preserve us!) Stick to the running of the clock: the point is that overall, with the forty second rule, time will be running off the clock that, in the move the chain and go 25 second game we have now, would not be running off the clock under the current set up.
This means less football unless you're running a no-huddle, a move Steve Spurrier has already suggested would be the only way to maxmize the total number of plays under the new rules. That may be what Clark means here by "some studies," so you can't assume he's lying here, since in theory it would be possible to have more plays if you're in a blazing fucking hurry the whole game.
Begging the question: why would you be in such a hurry? Because you have less time, of course, something offenses will work to death this year. If an offense can take longer to scan the defense and audible, they will; if they have time to read coverage and lineup, they will; if they have time to do anything at all making them more comfortable, they'll do it. The rules changes may ultimately come down to incentives. Sure, less time may actually equal more plays if you're running the Gus Malzahn No-Huddle (copies still available!), but there's far more incentive to slow the game down for an offense than there is to speed it up.
We haven't even broached bleeding the clock out with a lead in the fourth quarter. You like kickers? And games that end with field goals? Get your money in early for Auburn for the 2008 National Title, because 3-2-5-e did nothing like what you'll see with fourth quarter strategy this year. Offenses can now hit fast-forward with the forty second clock, reducing the fourth quarter to the sit-and-squat fourth quarters of most pro games. It'll be like watching two people play tennis with a huge children's ball rather than a standard tennis ball: big, slow exchanges, with more and more games ending with excruciatingly slow drives ending with a winning field goal.
The more we write about this, the more we're convinced this isn't just giving you less football: it's drastically changing the endgame strategy in college football. To borrow boxing metaphoricals: now we have middleweights exchanging blows in rapid-fire succession. With this rule change, you're going to slug the game down to heavyweight speed, and toward the end of the fight you'll see the guy ahead in the cards clinching like they're meeting a long-lost shipwrecked sibling. Points will die on the vine this year, and drastically so.
So Michael Clark's reply is honest in that it admits TV and the BCS are the prime movers, but it's less than honest with the suggestion that there will be more plays with the rule change. Suggesting this ignores how the game is actually played, and what teams' incentives are on the field of play. We could suggest that we shorten our work day in order to "be more productive," but realistically, there's little incentive for that to happen--in most cases, you'll simply get less done, which is precisely what will happen in college football. Thanks to the pressures of television and a lack of ingenuity on the part of sponsors, you'll see exactly what you feared: less football, period.
(Are we missing something? We probably are? Yes? Leave any and all corrections in the comments.)
P.S. After writing this, note the biggest canard/conditional in Clark's phrasing: "Based on consistent pace of play." That means the studies likely used an average number of seconds per play to do their studies, or assumed on. There's miles of wiggle room in this, as the time could vary greatly depending on situation, offensive scheme, etc. Good news for Michigan, though: DickRod runs the "jet" set, college football's fastest no-huddle. You've got a plan, at least.
Oh, and if it's the NFL, they used the NFL's average time to get a play off, not college. In the NFL they seem to get the play off faster--less monkeying around with looking to the sideline for a call, as you'll often see college offenses do. In college, we'd bet it takes even longer to get the play off in the same alloted timespan. Meaning, again: less football, and shifty citing of "studies" here. At least that's what we suspect.