There have been a lot of discussions about rule changes in attempts to shorten game lengths across sports recently. The April-announced change to Division I and Division II NCAA college football (Division III is not following suit) to no longer stop the clock after first downs (except in the final two minutes of each half) was controversial even when brought up, though. And it’s continued to draw fire now that the season’s started.
While we’re still not finished Week 1’s slate of games, many fans have already said it feels like games are just getting more commercials rather than being shortened. And several coaches have weighed in to criticize the rule as well, and offered some further comments along those lines on ads. The latest is UCLA’s Chip Kelly, who blasted that in a halftime interview with ESPN’s Kayla Burton during the Bruins’ game against Coastal Carolina Saturday (which they won 27-13):
— no context college football (@nocontextcfb) September 3, 2023
“But this new rule is, um, it’s crazy. We had four drives in the first half. This game goes fast. Hope you guys are selling a lot of commercials!”
Kelly’s criticisms of the rule change (which the NCAA said they expected to produce about seven fewer plays per game) aren’t on their own. To start with, on the commercials front, Colton Denning noted last week that the nine Week 0 games only dropped by four minutes overall. That was with the inclusion of the two hour, 50-minute Navy-Notre Dame game, and option teams like Navy skew these numbers by running so much (so less incomplete passes, so less clock stoppages). Without that game, Week 0 games actually took longer.
Excluding Navy-Notre Dame, the average time of game yesterday was 3 hours and 29 minutes.
Small sample, but I think it's a decent bet they've just replaced that game time with more commercials.
— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) August 27, 2023
And this week ahead of his team’s clash with Ohio State (which they’d lose 23-3), Indiana coach Tom Allen discussed this at a press conference, saying offensive-focused coaches (which would certainly include Kelly) are complaining, defensive-focused coaches (including him) are generally okay with it, but the rationale is probably about TV commercials.
Was thinking about this answer from Tom Allen at today's presser and how it relates to what @Dubsco pointed out after the Week 0 games.
— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) August 31, 2023
“When you think about the reasons why they’re doing it, you know, obviously we all know from a practical perspective they’re not going to cut out the commercials. Because that’s how things are financed.”
Rule changes to shorten games have seemingly worked out decently elsewhere. Major League Baseball made several changes ahead of the 2023 season along those lines, including the introduction of a pitch clock. And those changes have wound up producing much shorter games, and a lot of praise (although there’s been some criticism as well). But a key part of that is games actually getting shorter.
There isn’t enough data yet to fully confirm that this rule change is not shortening games. And even if that does wind up being the case, more data still would be needed to clearly prove that commercial loads (already a highly-criticized part of broadcasts in college football and many other sports, and one that’s sparked some investigations and experiments from networks and leagues over the years) are the reason why. NCAA coordinator of officials Steve Shaw, who tracks game length, discussed some of the many reasons for lengthened games with The Athletic’s Seth Emerson last fall, and there’s a lot in there, including growing numbers of teams passing more frequently (which, with clock-stopping incompletions, produces the reverse of the option-shortened games). But it certainly is notable that this rule change so far doesn’t seem to be significantly shortening games, and that it’s provoking grumbling about commercials from coaches as well as fans.