NCAA Football Games Are Getting Longer, But For Good Reason

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College football games are getting longer and longer. That’s no surprise to any fan who settles down on the couch for a full list of games.

but the reason Because longer and longer games can come as a surprise.

According to a report by Seth Emerson of The Athletic, the average college football game takes 3 hours and 22 minutes from start to finish.

That’s four minutes longer than the average just five years ago. But it’s not the commercials or the weird timeouts, or even the replay revisions that are prolonging the games.

Instead, the answer is much more innocuous.

The rise of the passing game has led to longer college football games

College football is no longer about three yards and a cloud of dust. Even the Big Ten is finally choosing to spread the word and throw the stone (no you don’t, Iowa)!

As more teams passed the ball, the games became longer. This is for a number of reasons, but the main culprits are more points and more first downs. While perhaps somewhat surprising, incompleteness is on the decline. Turns out the teams got good at these passing things.

Emerson’s report reveals that the average number of incompleteness decreased from 27.9 to 23.9 from 2002 to 2022. But early drops and points are rising.

Teams combined for an average of 39.5 first downs in 2002. That number is now 43.4. Scoring also followed suit. Two decades ago, there was an average of 9.1 scoring plays (touchdowns and field goals) in any game. There are now 10.3 scoring moves per game.

Unsurprisingly, running plays followed the opposite trend. The combined teams ran the ball 79.0 times per game in 2002, but only 74.6 times this season.

The increase in game duration has not yet become a significant issue, but it is trending in that direction.

“In a perfect world, games could always be 3:15 to 3:30 long, that would be the wheelhouse,” said Nick Dawson, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming. “I would say most, interestingly enough, fit that window. But, of course, there are exceptions to the rule. It is difficult because there is a balance. If it’s a big competitive game, 56-52 game that lasts four hours, nobody’s complaining, right? If it’s a 60-10 game that takes four hours, then you run into problems.”

So if you’re wasting some precious time on Saturday, you might want to call your favorite team’s offensive coordinator.

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