Length of college football games is a tricky topic

Updated October 4, 2018 - 7:01 pm

The nearly 3½ hours to play a typical college football game is still worth the time investment for many fans, but there is a concern among the sport’s officials of losing much of the future generation caught up in an increasingly distracted society.

So steps are being taken to address those concerns, but there is a fear of dramatically altering what remains a popular game, meaning any changes are made around the margins.

Length of games was a major topic of discussion when the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee met for two days this week in Indianapolis.

“There was no desire to change the playing rules in a manner that might take plays out of the game,” said Mountain West deputy commissioner Bret Gilliland, who is on the committee. “Everybody felt like the game itself was going well. You don’t necessarily want to mess with that, but were there some things we could do administratively to try to tighten up the length of games?”

Based on changes made last year, the average length nationally decreased by five minutes to 3 hours, 19 minutes. Halftimes no longer were extended beyond 20 minutes for special occasions, the clock before the half began the moment the teams left the field, TV interviews were done off the field, and the 25-second play clock for the second half began the moment the game clock ticked to zero.

This season, the 40-second play clock begins immediately after a kick or touchdown. Gilliland said the sample size wasn’t large enough this early in the season to evaluate the effectiveness of those changes.

The Pac-12 Conference shortened halftimes from 20 minutes to 15 in seven nonconference home games last season that were televised on the league network, and the kickoff time was moved from seven minutes after the broadcast opening to one minute. The result was a five-minute average decrease to 3:14.

This season, the Pac-12 expanded the program to include some conference home games on ESPN and Fox. The average game length for 14 Pac-12 home games with 20-minute halftimes is 3:19, and the average for the 18 games with the five-minute reduction is 3:13.

The 13 Pac-12 nonconference road games this season have averaged 3:34.

UNLV opened its season Sept. 1 at Pac-12 member Southern California using the reduced timing rules.

“I think it all comes down to fan experience, and that’s why they do that,” Rebels coach Tony Sanchez said. “As a coach, it drives the players crazy when you sit here and have all these TV timeouts. It’s a Catch-22. You do it because of the revenue it generates.

“I do think shortening it up makes a difference. We played at SC, and that was a 15-minute halftime. I didn’t necessarily think that was a bad thing. We didn’t really notice it much. We went in and still had the same conversations we needed. Half the time, you went there and you’re staring at each other for four minutes before you kick the ball back off.”

Gilliland said decreasing halftime would be problematic at a national level largely because of TV contracts that networks finance through advertising.

“If you take out commercial breaks or shorten halftime, that could potentially have an impact,” Gilliland said. “It would be a point of negotiation for sure. You’ve got other constituencies on your campus you’ve got to be receptive to, too — your bands and some of your promotions and those sorts of things. It’s a balance.”

More Rebels: Follow all of our UNLV coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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