The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one, and college football is well beyond that point. As ESPN’s Brett McMurphy points out, the average game in 2016 lasted three hours and 24 minutes. That 3:24 figure, McMurphy writes, has grown seven minutes over the past four years despite the average number of plays dropping slightly over that span — from 143 in 2013 to 142.6 in ’16.
Reporting on the ground from Tampa, McMurphy canvased the powers-that-be in college football, and nearly all of them agreed there’s a problem.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: “I would like to see shorter games.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey: “Fundamentally, we have to have that conversation,”
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze: “I firmly believe we have to shorten games for the good of the game.”
While (most) everyone is in agreement games need to be shorted, there is no consensus in how to shorten them. Writes McMurphy:
These were some of the most common suggestions on how to shorten the games: a running clock on first downs (until the final two or five minutes of each half); shortening halftime; limiting the number of replays; reducing the number of timeouts; a shorter play clock; changing in-game substitution rules; and limiting the number of commercial breaks.
Shortening halftime, reducing television timeouts and limiting commercial breaks are all non-starters. Each would ask television networks to give back money, money those networks need to recoup after buying each commissioner, head coach and AD their second homes and third country club memberships. A shorter play clock seems like it would actually lengthen games.
The only sure-fire way to shorten games would be to limit replay reviews and/or to move toward an NFL-style timing system. While the former move may be possible, the latter would meet a brick wall of resistance. Reducing the number of plays in the average game would mean less reps for players, writing off a number of team and individual numeric standards and records as unattainable, and losing another differentiator between the college game and the NFL.
“There is a consensus, if not unanimity, the games need to be shortened, but there is also a strong belief that we don’t want to reduce the number of plays in a game,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said. “So until the majority agrees that shorter games will require fewer plays, we will be at a standstill.”