Georgia coach Kirby Smart says proposed changes to clock operating rules shouldn’t significantly impact college football games next season, but he called them a good first step to reducing the number of plays in the name of player health and safety.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee on Friday approved a proposal to keep the clock running when a team makes a first down except in the last two minutes of a half. Since 1968, the clock has stopped on a first down until the referee gives the ready-for-play signal.
The committee forwarded two other proposals to keep games moving. One would have penalties that are accepted at the end of the first and third quarters enforced at the start of the following quarter rather than having an untimed down. The other would take away the option for a coach to call back-to-back timeouts during the same dead ball period.
“We think the changes are going to be very minimal here,” said Smart, the committee co-chair. “You could say, Why did you change it at all? It’s going to flow better.”
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The committee gave no serious consideration to a proposal to keep the clock running after an incomplete pass.
The proposed changes would go into effect in the 2023 season if approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on April 20.
Steve Shaw, NCAA secretary-rules editor and national coordinator of officials, said the rules committee took a conservative approach to begin the process of shortening games.
With the College Football Playoff expanding from four to 12 teams in 2024-25, and possibly more in the future, conference commissioners had asked the committee to look for ways to cut down on the number of plays in games in an attempt to mitigate potential injury exposures.
Shaw said the new clock rule on first downs would take about eight plays out of the game, which would be about 96 fewer exposures over a regular season and more for teams that play in bowls and the playoff.
The NFL keeps the clock running on first downs the entire game, and Shaw said keeping the old rule in place the last two minutes of halves represents a “beautiful difference” between the pro and college games.
“Those last two minutes are critical,” Shaw said. “By stopping the clock it gives teams and opportunity to make a comeback. Everybody on the committee was resolute: we’re not going directly to the NFL rule.”
In a move that mostly affects Divisions II and III, the committee approved the optional use of instant replay in games that do not have a replay official. It would allow the referee to use available video to make decisions on reviewable plays after a coach challenge.
Also, with some exceptions, drones will not be allowed over the playing surface or the team area when teams are on the field.