January 21, 2007

Time running out on new clock rules?

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Time may be running out on the clock rules that sparked criticism from coaches throughout 2006.

The controversial changes that took effect before the 2006 season likely will be tweaked when the football rules committee meets Feb. 11-14. How much the rules will be altered is still in question.

In a survey of coaches, the American Football Coaches Association found that 58 percent of Division I-A coaches wanted to overturn the 2006 clock rules and return to the 2005 rules, said Grant Teaff - the former coach at Baylor and the executive director of the AFCA.

"The clock rules have received as much attention as any rules in the last few years," Teaff said. "The response from our coaches has been consistent; a high percentage of them want the rules rescinded."

The clock rules implemented in 2006 were meant to shorten the duration of games and move them closer the three-hour mark.

Turn back the clock
Here's a look at the difference in the length of the game and number of plays run between the 2005 and 2006 seasons:
2005 2006
Avg. time 3:21 3:06
No. of Plays 141.4 128
As far as shortening the game, the rules were a success. Games were about 15 minutes shorter in 2006 than in 2005, but 13.4 plays per game were lost in the process.

"We noticed (the change) right off," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who is on the football rules committee. "I know our stats were down as far as total number of plays. It had an immediate effect as intended to shorten the game.

"(But) I haven't heard a lot of fans or coaches who support shortening the game, so it's coming from somewhere else."

Administrators who favored the new rules may not want to give back those 15 minutes. The rules committee consists of 13 football coaches and athletic directors from all three NCAA divisions.

Rules alterations suggested by the committee will have to be approved by the Player Rules Oversight Panel in the spring to take effect for the 2007 season.

Likely to be repealed is the rule that starts the game clock on a kickoff or free kick rather than when the receiving team touches the ball.

"First and foremost, the rule regarding starting the clock when a free kick is touched by the kicker seems to be a likely candidate for alteration," said Ty Halpin, NCAA football rules liaison, in an e-mail. "This rule created several situations at the end of games that were not the committee's intent."

For example, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema took advantage of that rule on kickoffs by twice sending his kickoff team offside after the Badgers took a 10-3 lead over Penn State with 23 seconds left in the first half.

Reviewing review
Video review was also changed going into the 2006 season. After nine of 11 conferences used instant replay in 2005, all Division I-A conferences used replay in 2006.

Officials appear to have done a better job on close calls last season. In 2006, 25.1 percent of reviews requiring a stoppage were overturned, down from 30.2 percent in 2005.

Division I-A also added a coach's challenge for 2006, resulting in 172 challenges in 738 games. Only 16.3 percent of challenged calls were overturned.

Instant replay and the coach's challenge appear to be here to stay. Most coaches supported both video review and the challenge, Teaff said.

"Even though there were a couple of things that received attention, game-in and game-out it brought fairness to game that we've never had before," Teaff said.
With the clock starting on the kick, the Badgers ran 19 seconds off the clock and Penn State was unable to run an offensive play at the end of the half.

Another new clock rule that created controversy dealt with starting the game clock on the official's ready-for-play signal on change of possession. In the past, the clock started when the ball was snapped.

If that rule is not rescinded, one proposal for compromise is to revert the clock rules back to the 2005 rules only in the final two minutes of each half.

That compromise is not likely to be well-received by the coaches, Teaff said.

"I think the college game hasn't had that kind of rule where at one point the game changes," Bellotti said. "If that's the only alternative, would I be in favor of it? Probably, yes."

The new rules were criticized by Bellotti and other coaches on the media day circuit prior to the season. The detractors increased as the year unfolded.

Texas coach Mack Brown urged a review of the rules after the Longhorns' 24-7 loss to Ohio State. The Buckeyes sealed the game inside the final seven minutes with a touchdown. Days later on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference, Brown said, "The game was over before we had a chance to do anything."

The average length of a game was reduced from three hours and 21 minutes in 2005 to three hours and six minutes in 2006. The number of plays went from an average of 141.4 per game in 2005 to 128 per game in 2006.

New Mexico State ran the most plays per game in 2006 at 77.5 per game. Oregon, the leader in 2005, ran an average of 82.6 plays per game under the 2005 rules.

The AFCA and Bellotti will recommend going back to the 2005 rules, but compromise to speed up the game without losing plays might be necessary.

"From a coach's standpoint, that's what we'd like to see (a change back to the 2005 rules)," Bellotti said. "If there is a mandate we must cut time of the game, we'll try to find some other areas."


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