Changes in rules expected

Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Controversial rule changes that effectively sped up college football games — and exasperated coaches — last season are likely to be modified, the supervisor of the NCAA's rules committee says.

"I don't think it'll stay that way," John Adams says less than three weeks before the committee meets in Albuquerque, N.M.

In voting at their annual convention earlier this month and in an annual questionnaire commissioned by the NCAA panel, coaches overwhelmingly called for rescission of the changes that shortened games, as designed, by 14 minutes in Division I-A. Offenses were forced to hurry to beat quicker clock starts after kickoffs and possession changes, and there were parallel reductions in the number of plays, yardage gained and scoring.

Discontent trickled down into Divisions II and III, where games are largely not televised and in some cases were played in fewer than 2 hours.

"Some of them even said they played games in two hours," says Adams, a former supervisor of officials for the Western Athletic Conference and secretary-editor of the rules committee since 1992. "One coach called me, and he was almost in tears. He said, 'I've got 70 guys on my squad, and they work their fannies off all week and I can't get them in the game.' "

The changes were approved a year ago. They start the clock on kickoffs rather than when the receiving team touches the ball and, after a change in possession, restart it as soon as the ball is ready for play rather than on the ensuing snap.

There were few, if any, objections to a third revision: shortening kicking tees by an inch to limit the number of clock-stopping touchbacks.

The average length of major-college games was pared from 3:21 in 2005 to 3:07 last season. With that came about 13 fewer plays, 66 fewer offensive yards and five fewer points a game — raising concerns that previously set team and individual records couldn't be approached.

First-year Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema created more unease in November when he used the clock-start-on-the-kickoff change to the Badgers' advantage in a 13-3 win vs. Penn State. They went intentionally offsides on kickoffs twice in succession, using 19 of 23 seconds left in the first half to minimize Penn State's chances of scoring. Penn State coach Joe Paterno was livid.

"The fact that it happened once," says Albany (N.Y.) coach Bob Ford, who heads the American Football Coaches Association's advisory rules committee, "ensures it'll probably happen more times. And you say, 'Wait a minute, that isn't what we had in mind at all.' "

Adams and others say the 2006 changes probably will be adjusted rather than thrown out, perhaps returning to starting the clock when a kickoff reaches the receiver, then immediately restarting the clock only if the return ends inbounds. The NCAA committee meets Feb. 8-11.

One other area of 2006 concern that apparently won't bring major committee tweaking: replay. "I think it went OK," Adams says despite a September glitch that cost Oklahoma a victory at Oregon.

"There's no foolproof system no matter what you put out there," says Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's managing director of baseball and football. "I think expectations were pretty high. And when expectations are high, you'd better make sure your system is refined and consistent and as efficient as it should be. ... (But) at this point, I think it's not a change of the rule. It's more mechanics."

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