Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Commissioner for a Day: College Football

Monday was baseball. Today, I invite all my fellow BlogPollers (and everyone else) to discuss college football.

(HT: Stewart Mandel)

I know that everyone wants to fix the BCS. Well, everyone with any amount of common sense wants to fix the BCS. We can debate playoff/"plus-one"/current bowl system until we're blue in the face. But it's not changing. Probably ever. So I'm not going to propose a playoff system here. I would venture to guess that anyone who's ever read my work before or listened to me on the radio before knows how I feel on the issue.

I would recommend that any BlogPoller who wants to take part in this (call it an "informal roundtable", if you will) also avoid the issue. There are so many other issues in college football that we can probably have a meaningful discussion without ever bringing it up.

1. Find a way to make the games shorter.

I don't care if they have to change how the play clock is run. I don't care if they have to run the game clock after first downs or out-of-bounds plays. College football is in dire need of flow. And unless the wishbone is coming back into style at some point, we're not going to get that flow. The spread offense leads to a ton of clock stoppages.

Games that last close to four hours (without overtime - and more on overtime in a bit) are games that last too long. Even an enthusiastic college football fan is probably going to come to this conclusion.

2. Get rid of this stupid overtime system.

I see a few alternatives:

--> No overtime. Voters hate ties, and so, presumably, do the power ratings. Not only that, but fans allegedly hate ties, so we can't have them.

--> NFL-style overtime. It isn't perfect, either, as you'll find out when I take my turn as NFL Commissioner for a Day later this week. But it's better than this contrived drivel.

--> NFL-style overtime with a twist...each team has to have the ball at least once, and the game doesn't end until one team has the lead after each team has taken a turn. In other words, if you take the ball to start overtime and score a touchdown, you kick the extra point and kick off to your opponent as if it was regulation time. Your opponent must then score a touchdown and kick the extra point to keep the game going. It's a morph of the college and pro systems, and I think it's the best solution.

--> Another idea I kind of like, one that is similar to the preceding idea, is what I think the old WLAF used. There, you had to get to six points first, so taking the opening drive of overtime and settling for a field goal wasn't necessarily the best move.

--> The World League used an even more unique system in 1974. Borrowing from international soccer, they divided the fifteen-minute overtime into two halves of 7:30 each. The full overtime was played, with one team kicking off to the other at the start of each "half". (HT: Wikipedia)

--> Change the current system to start possessions at midfield instead of the 25. That way, teams actually have to gain a few yard to have a realistic chance to score points.

Pick any of these ideas, and you'll have a better system than the "take the ball at the opponents' 25-yard-line, so you're already in field goal range without gaining a yard" concept currently being used.

3. Ban colleges from hiring coaches away from teams who are still playing.

Stewart Mandel presented this idea in his Commissioner for a Day piece linked above, saying that college football needs a system similar to that in the NFL, where coaches cannot be hired until after their team's season is over.

(Mandel actually errs in his piece, saying NFL rules prohibit coaches on teams still playing from being interviewed. This is no longer the case, but any team that wants to interview a coach on a team that is still playing must get permission and conduct the interview at an approved time.)

It seems like common sense to me. Don't cause any distractions to teams who are still preparing for postseason games. They might only be bowl games, but they're important to the young men involved.

4. Allow games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but limit teams to 250 miles of travel for games on those nights.

Personally, I like the idea of being able to flip on a college football game on a night when the only other programming on television is aimed directly at my wife.

But I don't like the idea of teams taking three days off of school to travel to those games. 250 miles of travel is a reasonable four-hour ride (assuming decent highways and light traffic), so players can be in school at least one of those three days they'd normally be gone.

(Toledo went to Fresno for a Tuesday game last year. That's just too much travel on a weeknight.)

Furthermore, teams that are traveling longer distances for a Thursday night game cannot leave until after all players have completed their class obligations on Wednesday, and teams traveling for a Friday game can't leave until at least Thursday afternoon.

To me, the schools need to at least fake the idea that college coursework is important for their athletes.

But at the same time, I don't want to take away chances for conferences like the MAC, Sun Belt, and Conference USA to get extra national exposure for their teams. Even with the advent of satellite packages and cable sports networks, the exposure is still lacking for these leagues.

5. Either tell the major polls that they can't conduct a survey until after everyone has played five games, or remove their influence from the BCS.

Too much of the BCS is determined in August, when the preseason polls come out.

At least part of that can be linked to the fact that the polls have wayyyyyy too much influence over the BCS rankings.

There are two solutions to this problem. You either tell the major polls that they are not to release a survey until after every team in Division I-A has played at least five games (so everyone has a good idea which teams are the best and which were overhyped in the preseason), or you remove their influence from the BCS completely. Doing that would mean that only computer rankings, which lack bias and are not prone to giving in to preconceived notions about teams, determine the BCS rankings.

6. Come up with a single uniform body to handle officiating.

I don't think that the individual conferences do a really bad job handling their officials. But they don't do a really good job, either.

If there were an independent firm that covered all college football officials, then we'd have similar standards for Sun Belt and Big Ten referees, which would hopefully remove the embarrassments we saw last year when mid-major conference officials tried to call bowl games involving major conference teams.

Granted, I'm not expecting to see Sun Belt officials working the National Championship Game anytime soon, but I still believe that the standard needs to be higher, and having one body overseeing all officials in all conferences would help do that.


Jeff said...

While I agree that teams should not start in field goal range during overtime, I hugely disagree with NFL OT rules being better. Football was anything but made for sudden death, and whatever system is used should ensure possession by both teams before the end. I like your third suggestion, NFL-style OT but each team gets at least one crack at the ball.

That system would not (always) add a huge amount of time to games like a real OT period would, and does not change the nature of football the way innings do, e.g. teams might still punt and whatnot.

Chris said...

How is a four hour bus ride better than a three hour plane ride?

Bruce Ciskie said...


Because a four hour bus ride can be reasonably taken the late afternoon/evening before a game, meaning that the kids taking the bus ride don't have to miss any class.

In order to schedule a three-hour plane flight around a typical school day, the team probably won't arrive at their destination until close to midnight...if not later. Remember, if you're traveling with that much equipment, you can't just get to the airport and leave.

Anonymous said...

Uh, no. Making games shorter does nothing to improve their "flow." Taking commercials out of games improves their "flow," but that is unlikely to happen. Thus, you are talking about reducing the amount of product football fans receive in order to receive a benefit that nobody can seem to quantify. It's another thoughtless truism that has no validity upon closer inspection. The only affect that reducing the number of plays (that's where the time-saving would occur )would have is that it would increase randomness of result by decrease outcomes. That would stink. Quick, which was more enjoyable to watch; the Rose Bowl, or the Super Bowl? Unless you are a die-hard Steelers fan, the answer is blatantly obvious. The NFL clock rules (running clock after out-of-bounds plays, no stoppage after first downs, etc.) have simply increased mediocrity. College football would be ruined by NFL style mediocrity (parity).

Your overtime scheme would result in much longer games, and could result in tepid, tentative playcalling by teams scared of turnovers (e.g. the NFL). The current college football overtime rules are perfect; they are fair (each team always has the same chance as the other team), they encourage difficult strategic decisions (should a team on its first possession, with a 4th and 1 on the four yard line, go for it, or take the three?), and they eliminate only the most boring play in football (unlike penalty kicks/shots in soccer/hockey, which eliminate most aspects of the game).

Why do you care about kids missing one class, on gamedays? Most classes require a set amount of work to receive a passing grade; it doesn't matter whether that work is done between 5 PM and 8PM on a weekday, or 3 PM and 6 PM on a Sunday. Instructors can easily record their lessons, or meet with students outside of settled class times.

Bruce Ciskie said...

1. I really hate anonymous comments. The least you could do is take six seconds and sign up for a free account. Either that, or just put your name on the bottom of your post. It was really well-written...so it's not like you should be afraid of heavy ridicule.

2. If you take the exceptionally simple step of keeping the clock running on all plays in bounds, you will increase the flow of the game. You'll require officials to set the chains and the ball faster (something that was a huge problem, by the way, in the Alamo Bowl, but something that any reasonable football official should be able to easily accomplish). You'll require coaches to get plays in faster, and you'll require teams to get ready to run a play faster.

There really is no reason why the clock has to stop after a first down, except that it's always been done that way.

In reality, there aren't many more (if any more) TV timeouts in a college football game than there are in a pro football game. In fact, there are fewer actual TV timeouts in some conferences than there are in NFL games.

Not only that, but TV timeouts in college football typically aren't any longer than those in NFL games. So "too damn many commercials" really isn't the problem. The problem is that the clock stops too many times, and it's often frozen for entirely too long.

The NFL had to deal with this a few years ago, and their proactive moves did help the flow in the game (and, yes, the NFL does have TV-related issues, but I do believe I covered that in my NFL post). Games aren't as long as they used to be, IIRC.

3. College football overtime is dumb. You START YOUR POSSESSION IN FIELD GOAL RANGE. And, yes, there is strategy involved in deciding what to do in the situation you laid out. But you know what? There's strategy in a game of HORSE, and I don't see the NBA using it to decide games.

If all you did was move the starting line back to midfield, you'd force teams to actually earn a chance at points. Now, anyone with a competent kicker could put points on the board in OT without gaining a yard or forcing a turnover. That's ridiculous.

And could anything possibly extend games longer than an overtime session that could go on until infinity?

(Please note that while I like the World League system, I'm not saying it's the only way to go in college football. I only presented it as an alternative, because nothing grinds my gears more than people who whine about problems but present no options to fix the problems. Never even tried to say it was the best option I was presenting. If you want my opinion on how college football should handle this, I'd pick the old WLAF "first team to six" system.)

Bruce Ciskie said...

Oh, and you missed my point on classes. Chris kind of did, too, I guess, now that I think about it.

If letting the Toledo kids miss three days of school to go to a midweek football game was okay, why can't we get a playoff system going?

It's hypocritical of the college presidents to continue to let this happen (not to mention basketball players - men's and women's - being gone for days and perhaps even weeks at a time during the NCAA Tournament), while still leaning on the age-old "We don't want our student-athletes missing more classes" excuse when asked about a football playoff.

father figure said...

I am no longer anonymous (well, I am, but less so). I think we just disagree about the factors that affect flow. When I have attended games, the primary thing I remember breaking up the continuity of the action were long commercial breaks after changes in possession, or timeouts. The offensive team has control of its momentum. The clock stops after a first down because even if it wanted to, an offensive team cannot start the play until the ball is re-set. It is unfair to penalize the offensive team (and the fans) merely to rectify a problem that doesn't exist. You claim that games are too long; why? Too long for what? Too long to enjoy? That doesn't seem to make sense. Too long for back-to-back matchups to be shown in their entirety? Maybe, but that's an NFL problem, not a college football problem. Too long for the game to result in a meritorious outcome? No, more plays mean fewer random results. I just don't know why people are starting to complain about game length. What would people like to do on Saturday afternoons in the fall that college football games are preventing them from doing?

If you really want to make offensive teams line up quicker, cut the play clock, and make delay of game penalties count for ten yards instead of five. That would get teams moving without reducing the number of plays.

As for a playoff, we already have one; its called the regular season. Seriously, the "classtime" argument against a college football playoff is weak. I'll gladly concede the fact that one or two additional games would not have a deleterious effect on most athletes' academics. The real reason we don't have a playoff is that playoffs are inherently inferior system systems are inferior to the currently existing bowl system. Playoffs reward excellenvce during one portion of the season, instead of season-long excellence. Playoffs would hurt the fierce rivalries that college football thrives on. National playoffs would be difficult to implement in a regional sport. I'm sure you have heard all of these arguments before. However, classtime should have no bearing on that argument. You are correct to point out the hypocrisy athletic directors display regarding classtime.