Has Time Told: Impact of College's New Rules
by Robert Ferringo - 09/11/2006
(Note: this article appears in the 9/11 edition of Winner's Edge Magazine)
There's a certain level of absurdity that I'm prepared to deal with; People dressing in furry mascot costumes and having sex with one another, United States foreign policy, and Dr. Phil are all things that I can accept even if I don't like or agree with them. It comes with the territory when you live in a Free and Open society.
But there are still certain things that are so ridiculous and nonsensical that it makes me question the sanity of modern man. College football's new rules concerning the official game clock don't quite make the list. But let me tell you, they're close.
By now most of you know what I'm referring to. If not, here's the Cliff's Notes:
- The game clock now starts when the ball is kicked on the on kickoff instead of once the receiving team catches the ball.
- On a change of possession, the game clock restarts once the ball is marked for play, rather than on the ensuing snap.
The changes were enacted to shorten the games. There is no competitive rationale for altering the timekeeping methods, mind you, but the NCAA did it anyway. In truth, the reason for the modifications was to appease soulless, blood-sucking television executives who wanted to cram more games into their programming schedules.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was quoted as saying that, "if we're going to let TV dictate things like that we're kind of letting the tail wag the dog." He isn't the only coach to publicly criticize the new rules. In fact, the percentage of people who are in favor of these clock crimes is about equal to the amount of people who think that "Snakes On A Plane" is Oscar-worthy.
But I'm not here to lament. The system is in place and isn't going anywhere (for now). The focus now needs to be on establishing what impact the changes are having on college football wagering.
On average, games have been shortened by anywhere from 15 to 28 minutes. But that doesn't just mean fewer commercials or fewer camera shots of hot, drunk female fans. The new rules have dramatically reduced the amount of offensive touches for each team and altered coaching strategy.
For example, let's say a team is down 14 points with less than three minutes to play. They score a touchdown to cut the lead to seven, but after they kickoff and before the opponent runs another play the clock is set in motion. This means the trailing team would have to burn a timeout before the first-down snap. It also means a comeback is less likely.
Also, according to the research of cfbstats.com, after opening weekend there had been a 10.7 percent reduction in plays throughout college football. In 2005, games averaged 168.8 plays. In 2006 we've seen that drop to around 150 per game. You don't have to be Socrates to deduce that fewer plays means less scoring. But the Million Dollar Question is what effect do these numbers have on totals bettors?
The time tinkering has resulted in overall scoring dropping by about four points per game. In Week 1 of 2005, teams combined for an average of 51.1 points per game. Through the first two weeks of 2006 that number has dipped to 47.1. Furthermore, schools have combined to go 42-50-2 (45.7 percent) against the total in the first two weeks of the college season. This past weekend the Under hit a profitable 56 percent of the time, registering a 21-27-2 mark.
Alas, we've found a crack in the system and a Money Trend, right? Not so much.
After two weekends last season schools were a combined 42-48 (46.7 percent) against the number. That's a difference of one percentage point, and means that the books are even more accurate than Brady Quinn. That also means that since the numbers are so similar we can't simply bet the Under blindly and consistently collect.
The level of consistency that oddsmakers have displayed through all of this is remarkable. According to industry insiders, the books were assuming teams would lose somewhere between 12 and 15 plays per game. From there, they calculated that scoring would be reduced by around eight percent per game. So far it has dipped by approximately 7.8 percent.
It's an obvious assumption that totals betting would be impacted the most by the new modifications. But just because that isn't the case doesn't mean that the new time management structure isn't having an influence on other aspects of gridiron action.
Simon Noble of Pinnacle Sportsbook pointed out that the new regulations have seemingly diluted the relevance of "key numbers" in the college game. His reasoning is that a reduction in possessions lowers the likelihood that a game will be decided by exactly 3 points or 7 points. His hypothesis is backed up by the fact that many books have begun to "under-price" buying extra points on or off key numbers. Typically, books would charge 14 or 15 cents on the dollar to buy down -7.5 to -7 or buy up from +2.5 to +3. Now several books are charging just 10 cents.
Another effect that short games have had is in regards to heavy favorites. This past weekend, schools posted as underdogs of 19 points or more were a phenomenal 13-6 against the spread. These squads weren't simply covering on the back end of blowouts either. Duke (+20), Troy (+26), Florida International (+20), Louisiana-Monroe (+24), Air Force (+20) and Syracuse (+19) all lost by a touchdown or less. Ohio (+19) actually beat Northern Illinois by double-digits on the road.
Further, big underdogs may gain a slight psychological edge from the new rules. If they can make a big play early in the game - a blocked kick, a defensive score, a kick return for a touchdown - there's now a greater chance of riding that momentum and hanging around to the end. Conversely, knowing that the clock is constantly ticking can add more pressure on heavy favorites.
"We are now playing a different style of football," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said after his team's 34-7 win over Southern Mississippi on Sept. 2. In that game Florida managed just 59 plays in 10 possessions. The number of plays was 11 less than what they averaged in 2005. "I've heard people say that it's not significant. Well it is significant."
The new rule changes are having a very tangible effect on the college football landscape. However, they aren't having such an impact that bettors need to completely overhaul their wagering method to keep up. Keep an eye out for developing rends - such as dogs getting 20+ points - but the best advice is to keep following the fundamentals and continue looking for value. Underdogs and Unders will always have more value because of the general public's affinity for betting the other side. And keep in mind, these policies are still new to players and coaches and adjustments will be made as the season wears on.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.