College football games are taking longer and everyone, including television, wants to fix it

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There is a touchdown. That means a waiting time is coming. Here comes a repeat review. Add another couple of minutes. The offense just made a first down. Then the clock stops. And oh oh, here comes that official with the red hat onto the field, the dreaded indication that another TV timeout is coming.

Little do you know: college football games are taking longer. And not a small amount more.

But the TV networks and their annoying waiting times are not to blame. Neither are long repeat reviews. It’s not even the epic weather delays, because even if you take them out, the average college football game has dragged on by four minutes since 2017, now down to an average of 3 hours, 22 minutes, even though the number of plays is decreasing.

“Four minutes is a long time,” said NCAA officials coordinator Steve Shaw, who tracks the data. “The why is very complex.”

Maybe, but there’s one main, overriding reason game times have gone up so much lately: passing. The evolution of college football offenses toward more passing leads to more scoring, resulting in stoppages on the clock, but also more first downs and more incompletes, although incompletes are also decreasing because teams are becoming better at passing, which leads to all those first downs. downs, touchdowns and field goals. It’s not that the teams pass more, it’s that they do it well.

All FBS Per Game Averages (Both Teams)

Meanwhile, the number of consecutive moves, which inherently means the clock will run more times after a move, has been reduced. There were 79.0 carries per game in 2002, then 77.6 in 2012 and 74.6 so far this season.

There is no evidence that this will go away. Passing works. And college football has already been through a litany of tweaks to the clock rules over the years, with a couple more quick fixes to come. (More on that later.

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