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The Length of College Football Games

2016 September 16
by Phil Miller

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tackled the issue of game lengths in major college football.

One morning last week, a plane left Los Angeles at 8:01 a.m. PDT. It was carried across the country by an extraordinary tailwind and made it all the way to Washington, D.C. by 3:02 p.m. ET. Total flight time: 4 hours and 1 minute.

Later that day, a football game between Florida State and Ole Miss kicked off at 8:06 p.m. It smacked into the sport’s ordinary headwinds—short touchdown drives, long television breaks and a longer halftime—and the fourth quarter wasn’t over until 12:10 a.m. on Tuesday. Total game time: 4 hours and 4 minutes.

The article’s author, Ben Cohen, this year’s average game length so far is almost 3.5 hours, 20 minutes longer than in 2006.

Apparently, it’s largely Baylor’s fault.

One strange truth of this sport is that faster offenses lead to slower games. More first downs result in more clock stoppages, and more touchdowns result in more television commercials. In other words, the more exciting a team is, the more excruciating its games are.

It’s almost impossible now for a high-scoring, highly entertaining matchup to wrap up in a reasonable amount of time. That’s why it makes sense that one fast team is most responsible for the sport’s epic slowdown: Baylor.

I’d offer three more causes.

  1.  There are more/longer commercial breaks
  2.   Halftime lengths are longer (20 minutes rather than 15 minutes   that old dudes like me remember from back in the day).
  3.   The official review of plays.

One way to shorten games while keeping 1, 2, and 3 would be to let the clock continue to run after a first down, except for the last, say, 2 minutes of each half.

What are some other causes?  What are some other fixes?

2 Responses
  1. David Elliott permalink
    September 16, 2016

    Easy way to shorten games:

    1. Fewer and shorter commercial breaks (PLEASE!).
    2. Go back to a 15 minute halftime.
    3. Get rid of lengthy official reviews that require measuring by blade of grass.

  2. Phil permalink
    September 26, 2016

    I agree with everything said. I am actually less engaged due to the time length. I never watch the commercials so I leave the room and usually become re-engaged in the game after 3 plays or so. And a lot of the time I enjoy the Redzone channel more than an actual game because its constant football.

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