Potential college football rule changes aim to limit plays and exposures while shortening the game

Buried in the 11th paragraph of a 16-year-old NCAA press release is evidence of the most significant upheaval that’s come to college football in its modern era. Addressing game length, the NCAA Football Rules Committee in February 2006 recommended what then seemed like two minor changes.

Beginning that season, the clock would start when toe met leather on kickoffs, instead of when the opposing team touched it. Also, the clock would start with the “ready for play” signal from the referee, not when the ball is snapped after a change of possession.

“I don’t remember how that came to the committee,” former rules chairman and Pittsburg State coach Chuck Broyles recalled. “It wasn’t very well received.”

What followed was less football — much less. Coaches, especially offensive coordinators, howled. The drop in the number of plays per game was so profound that those thought-to-be minor changes ended up being so radical they lasted only one season. That season, total plays declined by more than 13 per game on average. The drop in average yards per team (33) was the most since 1954. The scoring average per team (24.1 points) remains the lowest in the last 31 years.

This week, the rules committee is undertaking an unprecedented project that could similarly reduce the number of plays we see on Saturdays. This time, unlike in 2006, it’s being considered in the name of player safety.

The rules committee, at its annual meeting in Indianapolis this week, is considering its own version of playing less football. Membership is gathering statistics from the last 15 seasons to examine total snaps in a game, not just plays from scrimmage. Included in that total is extra points, two-point attempts and kickoffs along with plays from scrimmage. The committee…

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