I'm not a proponent of creating rules to keep the game of football from changing. The game always evolves, and we have to do the same in coaching it and playing it.
That's why I disagreed with Maryland coach Randy Edsall on Saturday when he said the fact that West Virginia ran 108 plays in a win over his Terrapins indicated there's something wrong with college football.
"I think there's a problem with college football. I really do, with that many plays. You take the number of plays that happen over a year, that these kids will end up playing 15, 16 games," Edsall said. "Takes a toll on them. But I was proud of our kids because they hung in there ... that's almost two games. Close to two games almost, that they played today."
Edsall is making the argument that with 108 plays, based on what we're used to in the not-too-distant past (when teams ran more like 65-70 plays per game), players are actually competing in the equivalent of more total games over the course of a season. I gather Edsall would argue it's extending the season and increasing the risk for injury.
We've heard similar sentiments about fast-paced offenses before from head coaches, including Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema. The so-called "Saban Rule," which would have penalized offenses that didn't wait for 10 seconds to run off the play clock before snapping the ball, failed to advance with the NCAA Football Rules Committee in the offseason.
I'm not here to say that a single one of those coaches is not truly concerned about injuries. I think that their motives are pure. Of course, there are ways to cut down the number of plays your team has to defend, starting with playing better defense, but I don't think the number of plays being run is really the issue here. I think defensive coordinators are upset that they're losing control -- with fast-paced offenses spreading all over the country, defenses can't make substitutions between snaps like they used to.
Now, Edsall also said he thinks games are too long -- that's something we agree on.
There is a compromise to be struck here -- one that will result in fewer plays and shorter games without forcing up-tempo offenses to change the way they operate.
I propose we go back to not stopping the clock after first downs except in the last two minutes of each half. That way if we have a game going to the wire and a team is driving, it will still be able to earn clock stoppages by picking up first downs.
College football did this in 2006 as part of a package of rule changes that was said to have shortened elapsed time during games by about 15 minutes and shaved about 16 plays from games. Coaches decried those rule changes, however, and the first-down protocol reverted back to its previous form the next season. It stands that way today -- after a first down, the clock stops until the ball is snapped.
If the clock isn't stopped after first downs, I don't think you're changing the quality of play and I don't think you're hurting the game.
It's a compromise that should be proposed when rule changes are under consideration after the season. It would address the issue at the heart of Edsall's concern without artificially slowing down fast-paced offenses.