College Football Rule Changes
by Trevor Whenham - 08/25/2007
Remember all of those college football rule changes at the beginning of the year? Remember how much time we spent trying to figure out what impact that they would have on the games, and consequently our handicapping? Forget about all of it. It turns out that the changes were merely a one-year experiment. Or rather, they were a bad, and completely unnecessary, decision that created all sorts of unintended consequences, so the NCAA did the right thing and tossed them out.
Let's take a step back to remember what we are talking about here. The NCAA, or more specifically the rules oversight panel, decided that games were taking too long to play. At the start of last year they made two changes to how games were timed to address that problem. When there was a change of possession they left the clock running, and they started the clock on a kickoff as soon as the kicking team touched the ball. The changes did do what they were intended to do - games were an average of 14 minutes shorter last year. The problem is that they also changed the feel of the games, and the number of plays.
There were an average of 14 fewer plays per game in 2006 than there were in 2005. As a result of that, there were five fewer points per game scored, and teams often found it harder to come back late in games. There were also some comical abuses of the rules. Teams that were trailing late in a game would run on to the field in a flat out sprint upon gaining possession to try to save as much time as possible, while leading teams would stroll out as slowly as possible to burn clock time. Since the clock started as soon as the kicking team touched the ball, teams were intentionally going offside to buy themselves more time.
The rules oversight panel came to the only conclusion that they could - that the benefits of the new rules were outweighed by the effects of them. The game was changed too much by the small changes. As a result, we will be going back to what we had in 2005 for the 2007 season. The clock will stop on changes of possession, and it won't start on kickoffs until the receiving team touches the ball.
What effect will that have on handicapping? In theory, it will mean that because teams should score more points, games will hit higher totals this year than they would have last year. This is a situation, though, where it is dangerous to compensate too much in your handicapping for the impact of these rules, because the oddsmakers will certainly be compensating for them, and by adding your own correction in you could be giving the changes more impact than they require. If anything you may see that the public overcompensates for the effects of the changes, thereby creating value on unders early in the season. I'm personally skeptical as to the reality of that situation, though, as I'm not convinced that the public will be widely aware of these changes and the impact that they can have. As was the case last year, and is always the case, sound handicapping decisions that indicate that you have a clear edge are the key, and these rules changes will likely have little impact on that over the long run.
The panel also made a number of other changes to the rules. Many of them will be insignificant to actual play while still shortening the length of a game. Charged timeouts will be cut to 30 seconds, and kickers will now be subjected to a play clock as soon as they are handed the ball. The play clock will also be just 15 seconds coming out of a TV timeout instead of 25. Those changes will have no impact on handicapping.
There is one change that could have an impact, though. At the very least, it has the potential to add some excitement to games. The kickoff will now be from the 30-yard line like in the NFL instead of the 35-yard line as it was up to now. That extra distance will mean that there will be fewer kicks into the endzone, and as a result there will be more returns. More returns, and potentially a bit more time to build up speed before the defense reaches the returner, could mean that teams with a talented kick returner will get a significant edge. If the impact of the rule is as significant as some major program coaches think it will be then you can expect teams to put even more effort into finding speedy and evasive kick returners.