Have you felt like college football games are taking longer than ever? You’re not alone. The question is, are you right?
According to The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel and Seth Emerson, you’re not. But also, you kinda are.
After Emerson ran an article last year about how college football games seem to be taking longer than ever to complete, the duo got to work finding out if they could prove that notion with data. Also, they wanted to see if added commercials were the culprit.
The amount of commercials during football games is ridiculous. Two games on. Both on a commercial break. Embarrassing.
— Papi Margo (@deliver___me) September 19, 2023
With new clock rule changes in place this season, you’d think audiences would feel the difference. So far, they haven’t, even though the NCAA has said the average length of an FBS game is down from 3:22 to 3:16 through Week 3 so far.
Mandel and Emerson were able to get their hands on documents that outline the commercial formats for all SEC and Big 12 games as well as some Big Ten games What they essentially found is that most broadcasting partners either use a “3-4-3-4” strategy (three breaks in the first and third quarters, four in the second and fourth quarters) or a “4-4-4-4” strategy that includes breaks at the end of the first and third quarters.
In watching specific games, like Alabama-Texas, Wisconsin-Washington State, and Oregon-Texas Tech, they noted no noticeable difference from last year in terms of commercial load and game length.
“The networks and the conferences understand that you don’t want to make the games unwatchable,” Big Ten COO Kerry Kenny told The Athletic.
Commercial break, field goal, commercial break. Watching college football is becoming a nightmare
— Benjamin Buckets (@bmeharg) September 17, 2023
That said, Mandel and Emerson did uncover one quirk that might be the culprit for making games seem longer. They noted that some of the conferences let networks run “30-second floaters” during breaks in the game action, such as an injury or a 30-second timeout. The trick is that if the network decides to take a break then, they aren’t allowed to ask for stoppage time and run the risk of the gameplay beginning before they return from commercial.
Mandel and Emerson say that Fox did three different “floaters” during the Colorado-TCU game and if enough of these come up, it can feel to TV audiences like there are more commercial breaks in general.
Of all the broadcasters, CBS is apparently the one that will annoy audiences the most. SEC on CBS broadcasts tend to take the 4-4-4-4-4 approach as well as two additional 1:20 breaks each half and the potential for those “floaters” to be used as well. For example, Saturday’s South Carolina-Georgia featured eight commercial breaks in one quarter. It’s hard for audiences not to notice that.
Commercial break, one pass, one punt, commercial break. 14 seconds of football elapsed.
Great product you’ve got here @CBS
— John Rast (@jrast_III) September 16, 2023
Still, overall, the fix is not in for more commercials during college football games, regardless of how it might feel while you’re watching.
“Here’s what I would say to those who say, ‘All you’ve done is put more commercials in the game,’” said Steve Shaw, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials. “We see that six plays are out, and six minutes are coming off. To me, that’s an indicator that nobody is throwing in extra commercials, and we’re not adding extra time.”