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Mark Bradley

Will college football take ‘hurry’ out of ‘hurry up’?

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These SEC champs were so tired they needed to nap . (Jason Getz/AJC)

These SEC champs were so tired they needed to nap. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Intriguing news from Adam Rittenberg of ESPN: In the era of hurry-up offenses, the NCAA is considering giving defenses at least 10 seconds to substitute and set themselves. Indeed, Rittenberg writes: “Offenses that snap the ball before 29 seconds remain on the (40-second) play clock would receive a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.”

Think about that: The team trying not to dally could get flagged for delay.

I’m not sure this change, if approved, would be any remedy. I’m not sure there’s even a problem, despite the complaints raised by the likes of Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema that hurry-up tactics pose a health risk to defenders. (A vocational risk to defensive coordinators, perhaps.)

Here’s Rittenberg:

The (rules) committee, which met this week in Indianapolis, believes 10 seconds of substitution time wouldn’t inhibit offenses from operating quickly. It points to research that states that offenses rarely snap the ball before 30 seconds remain on the play clock.

Rittenberg also quotes Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, whose team averaged an SEC-high 78.3 snaps per game, as being incredulous when told of the possible change by Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, whose team plays really fast itself. Said Freeze: “Y’all are kidding me. That’s not true.”

The belief here isn’t that college teams play too fast. It’s that college games last so long. The 2013 Georgia Bulldogs, who used the hurry-up, averaged 72.7 snaps per game. The 2013 Atlanta Falcons, also a hurry-up team, averaged 64. Both teams play 60 minutes. (Georgia did play two overtime games.) The difference is the clock.

The NFL doesn’t stop its clock after every first down. Except for the last two minutes of the first half and the final five minutes of the second, the NFL clock keeps moving after a player runs out of bounds. This is done so NFL games can come close to fitting into three-hour TV slots. The day of the three-hour college game has gone the way of the Wishbone.

The 2013 SEC championship — Auburn beat Missouri, another hurry-up team, 59-42 — lasted three hours and 54 minutes. The Super Bowl just won by Seattle over Denver lasted three hours and 23 minutes, and that was with a half-hour halftime break. (A normal NFL halftime is 12 minutes.)

Those who oversee college football have wondered if their elongated games need to be tightened, and it’s invariably the coaches who fight any attempt. Coaches, see, don’t want running clocks. Coaches (at least offensive ones) want more time so their teams can run more plays and score more points and pad their stats and — oh, yeah — perhaps even win more games.

But it gets ridiculous when — again referencing the Auburn-Missouri SEC title tilt — two hurry-up teams run 156 plays, score 111 points, gain 1,211 yards … and the whole thing takes nearly four hours and leaves you almost numb. If there’s a safety issue, mightn’t it have to do with how long players have to play, as opposed to how quickly they have to ready for the next snap?

A followup: Does Nick Saban run the world, or just college football?

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