Clock rule falls flat on its face

The Kickoff

September 06, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

There is a popular - though ungrammatical - saying about the folly of fixing that which is not broken, but apparently the NCAA is not familiar with it.

Either that or some three-piece suit at last year's Rose Bowl watched Vince Young sprint into the end zone to win the national title and muttered to himself that it would have been a much better game if it had just been 11 minutes shorter.

Of course, I'm referring to the latest rule change that calls for the officials to run the clock during every change of possession, except those that require a commercial break. The change is expected to shorten games by 10 to 15 plays, which - if it were in place last January - probably would have allowed Southern California to win its third straight national championship and Vince Young to be drafted 10th instead of Matt Leinart.

If you want a more recent example of the impact of the rule, you only had to watch Monday night's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown between Florida State and Miami. The Hurricanes, down by three points in the final minutes, had to use one of their three timeouts during a change of possession, which allowed the Seminoles to run another 40 seconds or so off the clock - which can be an eternity when all you need to tie the game is a field goal.

The motivation for this rule change is the desire to keep college games to about three hours, and we've seen similar efforts in other sports. Major League Baseball was obsessed with time of game for several years and made a number of rule changes in an effort to speed up play.

Obviously, a lot of this is TV-driven, since I've yet to sit next to a 10-year-old at M&T Bank Stadium or Oriole Park who couldn't wait to get home. The major television and cable networks apparently are tired of having their 3 p.m. coverage bleed into the 6 p.m. feature game, or some such nonsense, so they want each game to fit into a tidy little 180-minute box.

If you are one of the 11 people still left in this country who doesn't think television basically runs all of the major spectator sports, here's a quote from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany that should clear things up.

"In a perfect world, the games should be in the three-hour range, not the 3:30 range," Delany told USA Today last month. "If you look at the listening and viewing habits of the next generation, 3 1/2 minutes is long; forget about 3 1/2 hours."

Listening and viewing habits? I'm not naive. I realize that broadcast revenues have become the life's blood of college athletics. But if you're willing to alter the nature of the sport to satisfy the narrowing attention spans of the audience, why not just throw all pretense to the wind and let the fans call the plays on their Xbox consoles?

My main point is that the product was just fine the way it was, and the inconvenience caused by games running 15 minutes too long didn't rise to a level that required this kind of response. The rise in the average time of game can be traced to the increased emphasis on the passing game over the past couple of decades, but games that run long because they feature freewheeling offensive teams generally are exciting enough to hold the interest of the fans.

Presumably, the networks still charge for the commercials during that extra half-hour, though there probably is some economic benefit to being able to plan every minute of the schedule. We could get all technical and talk about Nielsen and Arbitron and "listening and viewing habits," but it's just easier to boil it down to the basic fact that rights-holders expressed concern to the NCAA and the NCAA responded, perhaps to the detriment of the sport.

Admittedly, the effort by Major League Baseball was warranted because the actual pace of the game had slowed to a crawl and it clearly was affecting viewership. I'm not sure the same applies to college football, even with the increasing number of games being played in prime time.

The bottom line: If you are a fan of big-time college football, you probably weren't looking at your watch while Young drove the Longhorns down the field to interrupt the budding USC dynasty.

You probably weren't saying to yourself, "Geez, I wish this was over so I could watch the 11 o'clock news."

Pete Carroll may have been thinking that, but not you.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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