College fans might not notice new first-down clock rule, but some coaches are wary of its effect

The NCAA rule change that drew the most notice in the offseason might go mostly unnoticed by fans once the college football season is underway.

For the first season since 1967, the clock will continue to run, as it does in the NFL, when a team makes a first down on a play that ends inbounds rather than stopping until the chains are set and the referee signals ready for play. The exception is during the last two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.

The primary rationale for the change was to cut the number of plays to reduce players’ potential injury exposures, national supervisor of officials Steve Shaw said — not to necessarily shorten the nearly 3 1/2 hours it takes to play the average game.

The importance of limiting exposures will grow as more teams play in the College Football Playoff. The playoff goes from four to 12 teams in the 2024-25 season, and further expansion is possible after that.

The NCAA Football Rules Committee projects that the new rule will trim seven or eight plays from the average of about 180 per game in 2022. An eight-play reduction over a 12-game season would save 96 potential injury exposures per team, and there would be over 100 fewer exposures for teams that advance to the playoff.

The new rule will be used on every NCAA level except Division III, which was granted a request to delay its implementation until 2024.

Shaw said he expects consternation about the rule to wear off much like changes to blocking-below-the-waist rules did last year. The blocking rule drew initial outcry from coaches, Shaw said, but the transition went smoothly and the net result has been fewer lower-body injuries.

“No one is going to look up in the middle of the first quarter or middle of the second and say, ‘They didn’t stop the clock on a first down and that just ruined this drive. That’s just awful,’” Shaw said. “It’s just one of those things that will disappear, and when you get your final numbers at the end, you may see seven plays less in a game that no one would have known at all.”

A couple other changes address pace of play. One bars a team from calling consecutive timeouts during the same dead-ball period. The second eliminates playing an untimed down when a penalty occurs as time expires in the first and third quarters. The play following the penalty will carry over to the following quarter.

Coaches’ opinions vary on how much it will impact games.

North Carolina’s Mack Brown and Maryland’s Mike Locksley are worried fewer plays will cut down on opportunities for backups who need development.

“Unlike the NFL, we’ve got 85 scholarship players, 120 in our program and they all want to play,” Locksley said.

Of course, the way a game unfolds usually determines the number of snaps for reserves, with more available when the score isn’t close.

Categories: Clemson, Local Sports, National Sports, Sports, USC Gamecocks