Let’s Speed Things Up a Bit, Shall We?

Having spent the better part of the last 20 years working in sports, I’ve only recently come to the notion that less is more. Specifically, generally, sporting events should last around 2 1/2 hours. Most generally come in around 3, and in recent years, the USA’s most popular league, the NFL, has been edging up to 3:30.

Not coincidentally, the league’s TV ratings have been going down. Some credit this to Colin Kaepernick’s protests (and all you can do is laugh at that idea). But one of the issues is the length of the game: 60 minutes of clock played out over 200+ minutes every week. Let’s also not forget that not all 60 of those minutes are action, either – much of that encompasses huddles, pre-snap reads and just spotting the ball. Ultimately, this has the effect of reducing the action under 20 minutes, or 10% of the total game.

The Arena Football League employs two clock rules that I think could benefit the NFL. The first is, a running clock. As-is, the NFL’s clock stops for incomplete passes, when a player goes out of bounds and for changes of possession. The AFL eliminates the first two of these except for the last minute of each half. Combine that with the second rule, limiting time between plays to 35 seconds instead of the current NFL 40, has the effect of keeping the action going quicker.

If you’re a football fan, tell me if this sequence of events sounds familiar to you:
1. Team scores touchdown
2. Team kicks extra point
3. Commercial block
4. Team kicks off
5. Commercial block
6. Other team runs three plays then punts
7. Commercial block

Ultimately, each commercial block is 2-3 minutes. Because commercials follow all special teams plays and changes of possession, it’s highly probably that up to 9 minutes of commercials could come in the same period that there’s 4 total plays of football. Ultimately, that’s untenable – if a television show ran 9 minutes of commercials, splitting 60 seconds of program, you’d change the channel.

One way to cut down on this is to simply eliminate the kickoff, which the league has toyed with doing for safety reasons. But that fundamentally changes the game. I think better to give teams a 60 second clock from the time the play is stopped to get their offense out on the field and run their first play.

Another significant way to speed up the game is simply eliminate the extra point. This, in my opinion, fundamentally does NOT change the game, in fact, strengthening it, and eliminating an untimed play. Picture this: Score a touchdown, get 7 points. Go for two and make it, get 8 total. Go for two and miss, only 6. Make the two point conversion a timed play, except in the last two minutes of each half.

Not only does the game need to be sped up, but it’s time to cut back on the number of meaningless matches, aka the preseason. Starters play so little during these games due to injury concerns that people have started to avoid them altogether, both on television and in the stadium. But owners aren’t just going to give up on the profits from losing those games, so what to do?

It’s simple, actually: Add ONE regular season game (not two as the NFL would prefer to do). Make it mandatory that each team play a neutral site game with #17. As-is, half the teams who play in London have to give up home games to do it. This way, the NFL can export its game to wherever it wants without teams losing a home game – that could be London, Berlin, Mexico City, Toronto, Beijing, hell, even some big college markets like Nebraska. Add a second off-week (called a bye) for teams after their mandatory neutral site game, so players get more downtime to recover from the extra travel.

These “less is more” ideas are great – until it comes time for the playoffs, when everyone wants more of everything. Tying together with the loss of two preseason games, the NFL can then add an extra playoff team to each conference – that will raise the total of playoff teams to 7 on each side. Right now, two teams from each side get the opening week off as a reward for having the best record. Under this new plan – only the winner of each conference would get that privilege, giving teams more to play for in the final weeks of the regular season. Ultimately, this would net the league an additional two playoff games in the first round, which is a ton more TV revenue and more stadiums operating at capacity.

The extra playoff games combined with the additional neutral site games should be enough to compensate financially for the loss of two preseason games. If the coaches need to see more of their newer and younger players, they could schedule more joint practices with other teams, or create an annual rookie scrimmage with another, nearby franchise.

Finally – and I don’t really have a place for this in my line of thinking here – but Thursday night games suck and need to go. They’re difficult to prepare for, with a week’s worth of practice getting shortened to just three days, and don’t pull great ratings. Figure out a deal to cut with the NCAA to allow a Saturday night game instead – there’s got to be a deal to be made there.

“I have no real ending for this, so I just take a small bow.” – George Carlin

Programming Note: Yeah, I just got started up again, but next week is Labor Day, so I’ll be back on Monday the 11th.