clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Weighing the pros and cons of 2023 college football rule changes

Some rule proposals make sense, but one proposal was objectively bad.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

Earlier this month the NCAA proposed a variety of rule changes to college football. Some of these changes are set to be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel in April.

The biggest change that will be approved is the clock will keep running on first downs except during the last two minutes of the second and fourth quarters. The clock currently stops on first downs until an official spots the ball.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd noted that stoppages on first downs have separated college football from the NFL since 1968. While the tweak to the rule will differentiate from the NFL slightly with the clock stopping on first downs at the end of the half and the end of the fourth quarter, it still brings the college game closer to an NFL model.

Here are two other rule changes that are likely to be approved.

  • Untimed penalties: If a penalty occurs with no time on the clock in the first and third quarters, the penalty would carry over to the next quarter. There will no longer be untimed downs at the end of the first and third quarters due to apenalty.
  • No consecutive timeouts: Often utilized to ice the kicker at the end of the game. The opposition will get just one timeout to ice the kicker from here on out.

These rules have been put into place to shorten game times and reduce the number of plays. The NCAA has cited player health and safety as the primary reasoning for the rule changes.

Player health and safety is important, especially with the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams in 2024. The best college teams will be playing in more games. However, if the rule changes are with player health and safety in mind it’s surprising the NCAA has yet to release data to rationalize their decision making.

Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen, who is the chair of the NCAA’s competition committee, wants to see more research on the correlation between injuries and more snaps. While it’s easy to surmise a mathematical formula of more plays= more injuries is concrete, there still isn’t readily available data to back that thesis up.

“There needs to be some more [data on] injuries to figure out — are there more injuries in Game 12 than Game 1?,” Dannen wonders. “Are there more injuries in the fourth quarter than the first? That I think can be done over the course of the next season to inform if there are more steps that need to be taken.”

The NCAA believes that the rule changes will shorten the average length of games by seven to eight minutes and eight plays. Any college football fan can tell you the easiest way to shorten the length of a game — less media timeouts.

Television deals with conferences keep getting bigger, and the length of games keep getting longer. Per The Athletic, the average game duration last season was 3 hours, 32 minutes — up 15 minutes from 2013.

While the NCAA is likely to get their way with these rule changes, there was another rule proposed that may be one of the most ridiculous this writer has ever seen.

One rule proposal was to run the clock after an incomplete pass once the official set the ball. That’s incredibly anti-football, but sure would speed up the game and create a whole heck of a lot less plays. The fact this rule was even proposed should have all the football purists concerned. We’re seeing baseball evolve — there’s now a pitch clock, in extra innings there’s a baserunner on second base to start the inning.

The MLB is finding ways to speed the game up, college football is doing the same. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there has to be common sense and rules being proposed that don’t stray far away from the fabric of college football and the NFL. If college football is to prepare their best for the pros, how would running the clock after an incompletion be helpful in any way?

The NCAA often moves at a slow pace when it comes to implementing any change with examples including an expanded playoff and NIL (name, image, likeness). It’s important they follow the same pace when it comes to rule changes and don’t make any decisions in haste that could create irreparable harm to the sport.

The rule changes that are soon to pass aren’t egregious, but one of the proposals that was shot down was egregious and atrocious. Football commissioners, coaches, and fans should keep one eye on the NCAA in the days to come and make their voices heard if rule changes pop up that could tarnish the game.