Rules to quicken game concern some coaches

The clock will start earlier and become a more crucial factor on kickoffs and changes of possession.

By Times Staff
Published September 1, 2006

Penn State coach Joe Paterno says he doesn't like the NCAA rules changes that will go into effect this fall - but he just might have last year.

Consider this: With a four-point lead and 1:53 remaining in the game, Penn State kicked off to Michigan. The clock didn't start until Steve Breaston fielded the ball. Ten plays later, with one second left, Chad Henne hit Mario Manningham in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Under the NCAA's new rules, the clock would have started as soon as the ball was kicked. Run off three to four seconds of hang time and who knows how much time is left at the end for Michigan?

"It's going to have an awful lot of bearing on the end of the game," Paterno said.

The NCAA approved several rules changes this offseason, including nationwide instant replay (with a coach's challenge) and a smaller tee for kickers. But two changes in particular have drawn questions, and scorn in some cases, from coaches.

Seeking to shorten televised games, the rules committee adopted two measures that will restart the game clock more quickly after kickoffs and on changes of possession. On kickoffs, the clock now will start when the ball is kicked instead of when it is fielded.

And on changes of possession (punts, turnovers, failed fourth-down attempts), the clock will restart when the referee gives the "ready for play" signal. Previously, the clock didn't start until the offense snapped the ball.

The changes, NCAA officials said, could shorten games by up to 24 plays and 12 minutes. Last year, times averaged 3:20 for televised games, 3:03 for non-televised.

Dennis Poppe, NCAA managing director for football and baseball, said college administrators have been asking the NCAA for years to address increasing game times. But coaches weren't troubled - though they are now.

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said he is "appalled" by the changes, calling them "major and severe."

Which plays will be most affected, and how the rule will be enforced uniformly, has coaches most concerned. On changes of possession, coaches will have to be quicker getting offensive plays and personnel in place, especially at the end of the second and fourth quarters. Timeouts will become even more valuable, because coaches might have to use one between possession changes in tight games. And fewer plays means fewer chances to score.

Then there's the kickoffs. In 1982, Stanford kicked off to Cal leading 20-19 with four seconds left. The Bears' lateral-fueled return for a touchdown has become an iconic moment in college football.

This year? Stanford could tap the ball, or even kick it backward, to run out the final four seconds without Cal even touching it.

"They are doing it because of television, and that doesn't light me up," Paterno said. "I think that we (should) cut out a couple of commercials and never mind cutting out the way the game is played."

SOONER WOES: The loss of Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar will sting the Sooners in two areas: as part of a potential NCAA investigation and, of course, on the field.

Although the school says it didn't know the specifics of Bomar and guard J.D. Quinn's jobs (see: pay for nonwork) with a Norman, Okla., car dealership, the Sporting News reported that won't stop the NCAA from investigating.

It also doesn't help that running back Adrian Peterson purchased a car this spring from the same dealership, drove it for a few weeks and returned it. OU officials have cleared Peterson, but there are questions as to whether Peterson's "deal" was given to any other student at OU.

LONG DISTANCE: New Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said he expects to let powerful kicker Mason Crosby try a 70-yard field goal at some point this season. The NCAA Division I record is 67 yards, which is held by three players: Russell Erxleben of Texas and Steve Little of Arkansas in 1977, and Joe Williams of Wichita State in 1978.

No, it's Idaho: Dennis Erickson is being called on for the second time to rebuild the Idaho Vandals' program.

Erickson, 59, has won 71 percent of his games as a college coach and two national titles with Miami. But a 2-14 season with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers led to his firing in 2004, and he spent last season watching games on TV.

Now he's working out of the Kibbie Dome, a giant wooden Quonset hut with a nice view of farm fields. It's the same office he occupied in 1982 when he took over the Vandals the first time.

"It's great to get out and have camaraderie with players and coaches," he said. "It's a people game."

Erickson's head coaching career began at Idaho in 1982, and he led the Vandals to the heights of Division I-AA in four seasons. In 1986 he jumped to Wyoming, then Washington State and Miami.

Now he's trying to turn around a team that hasn't had a winning season in six years and is 11-47 since 2000.

- Reports from the Allenton (Pa.) Morning Call and the Sporting News contributed to this report compiled from Times wires.