ncaa-football-logoLast week I took a look at the proposed rule changes for the 2013 college football season.  As those of you who read the article can probably recall, I wasn’t a fan of many of the major changes that were proposed.  That doesn’t mean that I think the rules of college football are perfect; while I do think the rules of the game are good as they stand, there are some changes that could be made to make the game even better.  Today I propose a few of my own rule changes and talk about how they would improve the game.

Advancing Onside Kicks

The first rule I would like to see changed concerns what occurs when the kicking team recovers an onside kick.  As the rule currently stands, the kicking team may not advance any kickoff that they recover, if the ball has gone the minimum ten yards the kicking team will take possession at the point where they recovered the ball while the receiving team may obviously advance any kickoff which they recover.  The current rule creates an imbalance between the two teams in the case of kickoffs, or any free kick.  The rules of a free kick consider any ball that goes at least 10 yards to up for grabs, able to be recovered by either team, yet what a team may do with the ball after recovery depends on whether they were the kicking or receiving team.  By allowing the kicking team to advance the ball this would even out this rule disparity.

This rule change wouldn’t have a giant impact on the game as onside kicks are rare.  In the 2011 season Division I-A college teams only attempted about 600 onside kicks, slightly less than one per game.  Of those 600 onside kicks, only 31% are recovered by the kicking team, in other words one every three games.  The number of times that this new rule would matter would be even less as most onside kicks end up in the middle of a pile of players where there is no chance for either team to advance the ball.  Still, every now and then a team will execute a perfect onside kick that gives them the opportunity to advance the ball.  Such a kick occurred in the 2009 game between Michigan State and Central Michigan where Central Michigan trailed by 1 with 30 seconds left.  CMU executed one of the most perfect onside kicks, a high hopper that a CMU player snagged virtually in-stride along the sideline and then took off with for another 20 yards.  Unfortunately the rule did not reward Central Michigan for this amazingly well executed kick, giving them the ball at the same point as if they had dug it out of the bottom of the pile.  Central Michigan would go on to win the game so that ruling didn’t impact the outcome of the game but teams who can execute kicks like that should be rewarded.  Check out the impressive kick by CMU in the video below, fast forward to the 1:55 mark.

Number of Challenges

As a high school football official I have a love-hate relationship with instant replay.  I hate the criticism of officials that has resulted from fans and announcers being able to determine that a call was wrong after reviewing a play half a dozen times from a variety of camera angles in slow motion while the official who made the call had one shot, from one angle, in real time.  I do however love the use of instant replay in game in order to correct calls that were made incorrectly due to the fast paced nature of the game of football; contrary to what many people think, the goal of officials is to get every call correct and anything that helps with that is a good thing.  Overall I think the college football replay system is a good one.  I like the booth official who rules on replays, this speeds up the process compared to the NFL system and has an independent official who had no part in the initial ruling making the call on the review; this eliminates any possible bias the on the field referee would have again overturning a call he initially made.

While the booth official does review every play, I like that the coaches can challenge a play if they feel strong that the initial call was incorrect and that the replay official just needs more time to see that.  While the goal of getting every call right would suggest that coaches should get unlimited challenges, after all that would ensure that controversial calls get the most scrutiny, coaches would quickly abuse the system and challenge every play that went against them, slowing the game down to a crawl.  Thus there needs to be a limit on the number of challenges but the current limit of a maximum of 2 challenges is too low.  I would propose that the rule be changed to allow a coach to challenge as long as they have a timeout.  If a coach is wrong in his challenge, he has stopped the game for a period of time, essentially he has called a timeout; this is why coaches currently are charged a timeout for losing a challenge.  Allowing a coach to challenge as many times as he wants, as long as he still has a timeout, would lead to greater scrutiny of more plays while still making sure a coach only challenges on plays that he truly feels were called incorrectly, as opposed to hoping he gets lucky.  If a coach is wrong on one of these additional challenges then all he has done is call a timeout, which he is entitled to do anyway.

Ball Position In Overtime

College football overtime is one of the most exciting things in sports.  The two teams each get chances to score and keep going at it until someone comes out of an overtime period with a lead.  While people can debate the merits of many rules differences between college and the NFL, overtime is clearly superior in college.  Even with the NFL’s recent changes to its overtime rules, the winner of the overtime coin toss is still given a distinct advantage.  A team can have an absolutely dreadful defense but if they win the overtime coin toss and their offense can score a touchdown, that doesn’t matter, they win the game without their defense ever having to take the field.  In college that is not the case, both the offense and defense for a team has to take the field and both teams have an equal chance to score and to prevent the other team from scoring.

While the college overtime is superior to the NFL one, and has less of an advantage for the team winning the coin toss, the winner of the toss in college still has an advantage and in my opinion it is too big of one.  The winner of the overtime coin toss in college almost always choses to go on defense first and they do so because their offense will then know what they have to do to win the game, or at least what they need to do to force an overtime.  If the defense can force a turnover, then their offense barely needs to do anything and that team can win by just letting their kicker line-up for a 42-yard field goal, since overtime begins with the ball placed at the 25.  While 42-yard field goals aren’t automatic in college, they are well in the range of the comfort zones for kickers on most teams in BCS conferences, and many teams from smaller conferences.  This gives a much bigger advantage to the winner of the coin toss than they should get.

I would propose moving the ball back to the 50 yard line to start overtime while retaining all the other aspects of the current college overtime.  Starting overtime with the ball at the 50 means that in order to score, an offense will actually have to do something, a team can’t just trot out their kicker for a not terribly difficult field goal.  This will lessen the advantage of winning the coin toss because while the offense of the team that won the toss will know what they need to do, they will actually have to do something in order to win.  Some people would argue that this would lengthen games because it would take teams longer to score from the 50.  To those people I would say two things; first, who cares if it takes longer to score, the point of the game is to fairly determine the winner, not get things over as quick as possible.  Secondly, I don’t think it would lengthen games by much because even though it would take longer to score, it would also be  more difficult to score and thus I suspect the number of extra overtime periods that occur in some games would drop, canceling out the impact of a single overtime period being longer.

Overall I think college football is pretty good in terms of the rules of the game and there isn’t a sport that I enjoy watching more.  Still, there are some tweaks to the game that can and should be made and I believe the ones that I discussed above would improve the quality of the game.

6 Comments

  1. EricNo Gravatar
    February 22nd, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Nice thoughts overall Charles.

    I would make one change to your last rule change though. Rather than the 50, the 35 might make more sense. The field goal from there is 52 yards, which while possible for a current field-goal kicker, is still a rarity. That substantially increases the risk of trotting out and simply hitting a field goal to win.

    The only other argument I would make is that I’m not certain that you’ve satisfied me that the Overtime is broken. If the winner of the coin toss manages to create a turnover, isn’t that enough of a big play to decide a winner? Shouldn’t the team that picked the ball off have the option of risking an easy chip-shot field goal to seal the deal?

    Also, your solution doesn’t solve the “problem” of the instant win. If the defense secures a turnover and scores with it, the game is over – period. Isn’t that too much of an advantage for the team winning the coin toss? Also, if you move it back to the 50, does that not make it more likely for such an event to occur?

    I’m not certainly you can successfully eliminate the advantage of winning the coin toss in an overtime. I think the college game has done an excellent job of mitigating it to the point that it’s not anywhere near the issue that it is in the NFL. I’m simply not certain that your changes are either necessary, nor necessarily solve the problem as well as you hope.

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  2. JasonNo Gravatar
    February 22nd, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    If you want to eliminate the impact of the coin toss on overtime, then you have to eliminate the coin toss. Simply give the ball to either team and start playing.

    You could make the argument that the team who was on defense last should be on offense first in OT, and that’s pretty logical. You could also argue that the team who scored to force OT has earned the right to keep that momentum going (see: Ohio State/Purdue 2012) and that makes sense too.

    Either way works (although option one will sound right to most people) and eliminates the coin toss.

    But really what you’re talking about is eliminating the advantage of being on defense first, which I’m not sure is a real advantage as much as a perceived one.

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    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    February 22nd, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    If you want to eliminate the impact of the coin toss on overtime, then you have to eliminate the coin toss.

    Well, duh.

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    KenNo Gravatar
    February 22nd, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Frankly, I’d just eliminate the impact of the overtime settle it with a coin toss. ;)

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    KenNo Gravatar
    February 22nd, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Jason, interesting enough, other folks have similar ideas. As soon as I can get the link to work, I’ll affix it.

    There is a real enough advantage to being on defense first, though..

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    JasonNo Gravatar
    February 25th, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Here’s a study (kind of old, but it’s doubtful the numbers would be drastically different) that suggests the advantage is minimal:

    http://www.footballcommentary.com/ncaaovertime.htm

    While the authors of that study still suggest going on defense first, the probability of winning by doing so is only about .52.

    To me, this points more to something else being the major deciding factor (probably related to red-zone offense/defense). Obviously knowing that you only need a field goal to win makes a difference, but the coin toss advantage is gone if you give up a TD.

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