DESTIN, Fl. — College football fans aren’t the only ones checking their watches as games grind towards four hours. The SEC and other conferences are paying attention, too.
The average SEC football game was 3:26 in 2016, SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw told the media on Thursday during the league’s spring meetings.
“Everybody is talking about length of game,” Shaw said.
There were four SEC games that lasted more than four hours last year, Shaw said. Two of those games went over four hours despite not going to overtime. The longest non-overtime game was Alabama’s 48-43 win at Ole Miss on Sept. 17.
No rules changes have been made to alter play or speed up games. Instead, officials will be charged with keeping games on pace and cutting down dead time. Shaw thinks games can be shortened by five or six minutes without making rules changes or effecting the sport itself.
One of the obvious changes is to enforce the rule limiting halftime to 20 minutes as stated in the rule book. Sometimes, Shaw said, halftimes are stretched out to 23 or 24 minutes. The halftime clock might start after teams have cleared the field instead of after the end of the second quarter. Halftime shows and events might be jammed in and run over by a few minutes. The time adds up.
“Halftime is going to be 20 minutes,” Shaw said. “And then at the end of halftime — TV knows this too and they’re committed to do it with us — when the clock hits zero, we’re going to kick off. A lot of times, you’d see the red hat official signal ‘I need a minute, give me two minutes.’ When it hits zero, we’re going to break and kick off.”
Officials will also be charged with restarting the clock when the ball is set, except for during the last two minutes.
“Basically, we had every Division I referee in America in a meeting,” Shaw said. “We looked them all in the eye and said ‘Look, we’re going to be consistent. When the center judge puts the ball down, you’re cranking it up.'”
They’ll follow a similar procedure after awarding a first down. The rule book, Shaw said, says the clock should be stopped to award a first down. It does not need to be stopped to move the chains. Substitution opportunities were also inconsistent; some referees waited until substitutions were over to wind the clock.
None of these are new rules; it’s a matter of being consistent in enforcing rules already in play to keep the game moving.
But for now, there are no plans to make changes to the amount of commercials to shorten the games.
“You watch TV sometimes, and there’s touchdown, then an extra point, then run four or five replays, then go to commercial,” Shaw said. “They’re going to have to find ways to be more efficient, to get out and get back in. Those are the kind of things we want to do. I don’t think we’re going to break (TV) contracts at this point. I think we can be more efficient.”
The goal is to keep the rules of football unchanged while still finding ways to shorten games. These solutions are a step towards that.
“We need to do the administrative components around the game. If we have a 20-minute halftime, the game managers are going to have to be more efficient. But there’s time for both bands to play. We’re not going to lose the pageantry of the Southeastern Conference.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.