The end of the Super Bowl — and all of football season until late summer — invites football fans and commentators to explore the relationship between college football and the NFL. We’re exploring how these different versions of America’s most popular sport can embrace each other and change together.
We’ve already published an installment on how the NFL can become more like college football. Here’s a look at how the college game can become more like the NFL in productive, common-sense ways:
5 – MAKE PASS INTERFERENCE A SPOT FOUL
This is the simplest call for college football to make in terms of adopting an NFL rule. It’s very, very simple: Rules in any sport should not give a team incentive to break them, if at all possible. Much as fouling should not be encouraged in college basketball, there should not be an incentive for a defender to commit pass interference.
Naturally, there will be situations in which a defender can benefit from committing pass interference. The foremost example which comes to mind is that on a last-second play in the fourth quarter, committing pass interference prevents the opponent from scoring a winning touchdown. It’s obviously better to mug the wide receiver and bring about another play than avoid committing the penalty and allowing a touchdown in the process. That’s an endgame component, however.
In terms of general game play, defensive backs should not be given incentive to commit pass interference. Yet, as long as college football caps defensive pass interference at 15 yards, defenders are encouraged to interfere if they’re plainly beaten on 50-yard passes. That’s gotta stop. Period.
4 – CARVE OUT SPACE TO ENSURE THE BEST GAMES CAN BE SEEN ON TV
The scheduling of the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 31 is a huge problem with college football on television, but it’s particular to this new postseason structure. On a larger and more long-term level, the worst part of college football on television is that it will often put three or four high-quality games on at the same damn time.
While the NFL can do things to better present its own product on television, one thing the league gets right is that it showcases its best matchups in the late 4:25 p.m. Eastern window and then the Sunday night game. The average regional matchups are thrown into the pot at 1 p.m. Eastern.
If college football could become a little more intentional about scheduling big games in appreciably differentiated time slots, more fans would be able to see more of the showcase games each week. It’s brutally unfortunate for fans to have to choose among three top-tier games at 7:45 or 8:10 Eastern time on a Saturday, especially if the noon and 3:30 windows were comparatively barren in their offerings. A few such Saturdays existed this past college football season — there’s no excuse for that.
3 – RUNNING CLOCK ON FIRST DOWNS
If people think really long (four-hour Big 12) college football games are a problem, and there’s nothing wrong with that — it does seem like an absurdly long duration for a football game at any level — they should not be concerned with more expansive replay review.
This is where “game length” concerns can and should be addressed.
If you remove the clock stoppages for first downs in college football, you’ll shorten game lengths to a considerable extent. This means fewer snaps, which means fewer accumulated hits, which means a better deal for players in terms of subjecting their bodies to health risks. It also means officials don’t need to walk a delicate tightrope in terms of marking the ball for play and going through several sets of officating mechanics in both stopping and re-starting the clock.
This makes too much sense. College football will therefore not do it… but it sure as heck ought to.
2 – STOPPED CLOCK ON ALL PENALTIES IN THE FINAL TWO MINUTES
Having just said that college football should have more of a running clock, this is a counterbalance. We’ve seen how clocks restart on some kinds of penalties inside the final two minutes of games. This happened in a number of SEC contests from 2014, chiefly Florida-Tennessee, Tennessee-Georgia, and Alabama-Arkansas.
The NFL gets it right on clock stoppages and penalties. You commit a penalty in the last two minutes, the clock freezes. That’s how it should work, with the addendum being that the other team should have the right to choose among yardage; the burning of a timeout; or a 20-second runoff if a penalty is committed in the last two minutes of a game. A five-yard penalty with a clock stoppage might not be that much of a penalty for a team if said penalty gives that team (which could be without timeouts) a chance to reset its offense and call a good play. Giving the opposing team the chance to demand that a timeout must be used as a penalty (and if no timeout, a 20-second runoff) would be fairer.
Your move, college football.
1 – DON’T HAVE A HELMET RULE
The helmet rule is the worst. College football, let’s get rid of things that are the worst.
The NFL does a lot of stupid things, but it doesn’t have this particular helmet rule.