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NCAA Football: Are the new clock rules hurting the game?

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John Clay of the Herald-Leader has an interesting post today on his blog, Sidelines, looking at the total number of plays run in the SEC last year vs. this year.  As you know, the NCAA changed the clock rules substantially this year, and we have seen several cases of delay of game penalties because the time between plays is now 40 seconds from when the previous play is blown dead rather than 25 seconds from when the whistle is blown to begin the next play.

Several college coaches have complained bitterly about the new rules, including Florida's Urban Meyer.  I thought I would add a bit to John's analysis, as per the following chart:

Team # of plays 2007 # of plays 2008 Diff % Diff Remarks
Alabama 74 65.2 -8.8 -11.89% Significant difference
Arkansas 73.2 69.7 -2.5 -3.42%
Auburn 69.2 71.7 2.5 3.61% This is an outlier. Auburn changed to a spread option offense, with a lot of no-huddle.
Florida 65.2 57 -8.2 -12.58% Significant difference
Georgia 67.2 63.7 -3.5 -5.21%
Kentucky 77.9 72.3 -5.6 -7.19%
LSU 75.3 65 -10.3 -13.68% Significant difference
Ole Miss 64.2 62 -2.2 -3.43%
Miss State 67.7 69.8 2.1 3.10%
S Carolina 68.7 67.2 -1.5 -2.18%
Tennessee 70.9 69.7 -1.2 -1.69%
Vanderbilt 69.7 58 -11.7 -16.79% Significant difference
Average 70.27 65.94 4.33 6.16%

John's take (and Steve Spurrier's as well) is that a reduction in plays benefits the less talented team, the argument being that a more talented team is more likely to put points on the board the more chances they get.  It's hard to argue with that logic, but does the data support that?

Well, I would say it's a mixed bag.  So far, most teams are down only marginally, but Florida, LSU, Alabama and Vanderbilt are all running significantly fewer plays than last year.  Has this translated into upsets?  Well, Alabama-Clemson was an upset, but looking at what Clemson has done to date, I'm not sure they were the most talented team.  Clearly Vanderbilt has sprung some upsets, but it's hard to argue that LSU and Florida have suffered from the changes at this point.  It's also hard to argue that Auburn, who is running more plays than last year due to a change in offenses, is benefiting from that fact.

We'll revisit this issue later in the year when we have more data, but right now, it looks like Meyer, and those who join him in the criticism, don't have much of a leg to stand on.  But it is early.