New rules mean less fun
College football fans and coaches have railed against the new rule changes that served their purpose in Week 1 and shortened games by an average of 17 minutes. Network television executives were no doubt dancing in their top-floor offices at the results.
But the real loser in this whole clock conundrum is the players, specifically those second- and third-stringers who saw their playing time lopped in half (or eliminated all together) because of a few suits' desire to fit NCAA games into a three-hour viewing window.
In case you missed my column last month or the many others that have been written on the subject, the NCAA changed its rules earlier this year to start the playing clock on kickoffs (instead of returns) and once the ball is spotted on the first play of a series (instead of the snap). The rules were instituted without the support of the American Football Coaches Association, presumably because they would have suggested cutting into commercial time instead and that just wouldn't be right.
Well, the new rules worked. According to USA Today, opening games this year averaged 13 fewer plays, 4.5 fewer points and 101 fewer yards than a season ago. They also resulted in one unintended and unhealthy change. With fewer plays to go around and smaller leads to hold, coaches were more apt to stick with their starters late in games.
As empirical data I can only offer common sense and a few snippets from around the Big Ten. Michigan State did not play a backup offensive lineman one single snap in its 27-17 win over Idaho. Purdue left star receiver Dorien Bryant in the game in the fourth quarter of a 60-35 blowout of Indiana State. And Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco, a month removed from knee surgery, took every snap of a 35-14 win over Bowling Green.
This isn't t-ball where mommy pays $125 and everyone is guaranteed three innings and a T-shirt, but early-season games are the time to experiment, to get your two-deep ready for the rigors of a season. I saw less of that last weekend, and I suspect - like the unfortunate rules themselves - that's here to stay.