- Jim Donnan, College Football
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Editor's note: ESPN.com asked five of its analysts to discuss one change they would like to see in college football. Here is the first installment of the five-part series.
Prior to the start of the 2006 season, two rules changes were adopted in an effort to shorten the length of games. Rule 3-2-5 dictated that the clock start when the ball is free kicked and the more controversial Rule 3-2-5-e ordered that after a possession change, the clock start on the officials' ready-for-play signal.
The rules changes accomplished their goal; according to College Football Stats (www.cfbstats.com), the average game took 3 hours, 20 minutes and 22 seconds in 2005. In 2006, games were shortened by nearly 15 minutes, to 3:06:33. Scoring decreased from 52.44 points to 47.37.
Running the clock after changes of possession and upon contact with the ball on kickoffs caused teams to lose an average of seven offensive plays per game compared to last season (almost 14 per game between both teams).
The changes did not sit well with coaches. After Texas lost to Ohio State 24-7 on Sept. 9, Longhorns coach Mack Brown was vocal in his dislike of the change. "They scored with six minutes left and the game was over before we had a chance to do anything," Brown said after the game. "I really hope whoever made these changes will go back and look them over."
Brown wasn't alone. I spoke with five coaches of top-20 teams off the record about this issue, and all were against the change. Besides giving inferior teams a better chance to stay in games against tougher opponents, speeding up the clock -- and reducing the number of plays per game -- also diminishes a player's opportunities to contend for individual and team records.
In the 2006 season, the number of players averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game was barely half of what it was the previous season (down from 34 to 18), and the number of players with more than 100 receiving yards per game was only one quarter of what it was a season earlier (down from 12 to three).
When you deprive a team of seven offensive plays per game, you not only decrease the number of opportunities to score, you decrease the amount of time an opponent must spend on defense as well. This can make for closer games, often with surprising results. The rules changes also significantly affected the ability of teams to utilize end-of-game clock management and minimized their chances to stage a comeback. And while shortened games provided fewer offensive opportunities, hastening the time between plays proved to be a disadvantage for defenses, which had less time to react to the opposing offense's personnel packages.
The clock changes also affected the building of a team's depth. Seven fewer plays each game might not sound like a lot, but over the course of the season, teams lost an average of 84 plays. That's 84 plays a second-teamer didn't get to experience. By affecting a team's ability to develop its future stars and starters, the rules changes not only impacted records for this season, but future seasons as well.
Many in the college football community believe that Rule 3-2-5-e will be overturned or modified in some form before the start of the 2007 season. But the goal of shortening games remains. A number of ideas are under consideration, including adopting a pro-style 40-second clock between plays. That system works well in the NFL because playcallers are able to communicate with the quarterbacks though headsets in their helmets; employing that system in college would be effective, but costly. Currently in college football, 45 to 50 seconds typically elapse between the end of one play and the beginning of a new one.
Other ideas include not stopping the clock when a player goes out of bounds, except at the end of the half and at the end of games, and not stopping the clock on first downs. Last season, colleges were also allowed to shorten halftimes if both sides agreed to the change; however, the pomp and pageantry of college football is what separates it from other sports. Shortening halftime would cut down on band performances and other time-honored traditions.
It's clear the rules committee has a number of big decisions to wrestle with this offseason. Hopefully, reversing Rule 3-2-5-e will be among the changes for 2007.
Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.
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