College football games are taking longer and everyone, including TV, wants to fix it

There’s a touchdown. That means a timeout is coming. Here comes a repeating review. Add a few more minutes. The attack has just made a first descent. So the clock stops. And uh oh, here comes that red hat officer on the field, the dreaded indication that another TV timeout is coming.

You’re not imagining it: college football games are taking longer. And not a little more.

But the television networks and their annoying breaks are not to blame. Nor are the long repeat reviews. It’s not even the epic weather delays, because even if you take that away, the average college football game has increased by four minutes since 2017, now up to an average of 3 hours and 22 minutes, even though the number of plays is decreasing.

“Four minutes is a lot,” said Steve Shaw, NCAA staff coordinator, who tracks the data. “The why is very complex.”

Perhaps, but there is one main and overriding reason why play times have increased so much lately: passing. The evolution of college football offenses to be heavier on passes leads to more points, which results in clock stoppages, but also more first downs and more incompletions – although incompletions are also reduced because teams are becoming better at passes, leading to all first. downs, touchdowns and field goals. It’s not that the teams are passing more, it’s that they’re good at it.

Averages per game across FBS (both teams)

Meanwhile, the number of moves running, which inherently means more times the clock will run after a move, has decreased. There were 79.0 runs per game in 2002, then 77.6 in 2012 and 74.6 so far this season.

There is no evidence that this will go away. Passage works. And college football has seen a number of clock rule tweaks over the years, with a few more quick fixes perhaps on the way. (More on that later.

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