Three College Football Rules I'd Change Right Now (and One I Wouldn't)
There isn’t going to be a commissioner of college football anytime soon for a simple reason.
When you’re a group of competitors being sued in federal court and accused of colluding to cap the salaries of your rank-and-file employees (because you are colluding to cap the salaries of your rank-and-file employees), it’s unwise to get together and elect a person to be in charge of said collusion. But let’s pretend for a few minutes that the Ninth Circuit’s docket doesn’t exist and that the powers that be have chosen a commissioner.
And let’s imagine that in a fit of incompetence, they have chosen me. I now have the power to change any rule in college football with a wave of my hand. So let’s get waving.
Change No. 1: Overtime
The end of the Patriots-Chiefs AFC Championship Game sparked a new conversation about the NFL’s overtime in particular and football overtime in general. I think we can all agree that college football’s overtime is more fun and more fair than the NFL’s overtime. Both teams get to possess the ball starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line, and the drama ratchets up with each extra period. Everyone who stayed up to watch the seven-overtime marathon between LSU and Texas A&M in November can attest.
But having a better overtime system than the NFL isn’t the goal here. Creating the best way to determine a winner is.
The NFL used to have a cutthroat sudden-death overtime that conceivably could end this way: coin flip-kickoff-medium range pass completion-field goal. That put too much emphasis on the coin toss, so the league instituted the half measure of letting the team that lost the toss get a chance to have the ball after a field goal—but not after a touchdown. This is as unsatisfying as it is complicated.
But what’s weird is it’s less coin-toss dependent than college football overtime.
In the NFL, you always take the ball if you win the toss. In college, you always choose to play defense first. This is because your offensive strategy will change based on what the opponent did. If they scored a touchdown, you know you’re going for any fourth down. If they didn’t score at all, you’re going to run three times, set the kicker up in his favorite spot and try to win with a field goal.
And that’s part of the problem. It’s too easy to score in college football’s overtime. As dramatic as that LSU-Texas A&M game was, it wasn’t even really football by the end. Neither defense could stop the opposing offense in a four-down situation, and the only way to win was to pray someone made a mistake on a two-point conversion. The defenders were so gassed that they couldn’t play effectively. This is unsafe as well as a perversion of the sport.
So let’s fix it. We still want both teams to have a chance at the ball. And while we don’t mind the occasional multi-overtime game, we want to reduce the possibility of going more than about three. Since less than 30% of college overtime games make it past the first overtime, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Since we want to make it tougher to score—but not impossible—let’s move the ball back. My SiriusXM cohost Jason Horowitz suggested teams should have to start at their own 35 (as if the opponent had knocked a kickoff out of bounds). This seemed like a good idea at first, but then I worried that offensive futility might send certain games into too many overtime periods.
I reached out to the fine team at SportSource Analytics, and Drew Borland hooked me up with some expected points numbers. What are expected points? It’s the amount of points a team can expect to score based on a certain down, distance and yard line. SportSource has 14 seasons of FBS data archived, so these numbers are the expected points for these situations in the FBS over the past 14 years.
First-and-10 from opponent’s 25: 4.37
First-and-10 from opponent’s 35: 3.82
First-and-10 from the 50: 2.91
First-and-10 from your own 35: 2.21
I like the 50. The expected points figure is a little less than a field goal on average. So nearly any offense can score, but there’s a good chance it can’t score twice in a row. That would give each team a fair shot, create a dramatic finish and virtually erase the chance of infinite overtimes. We can leave the you-must-go-for-two-beginning-in-OT No. 3 rule. We probably won’t see a lot of third overtimes, but that would heighten the drama and lessen the chance of a fourth OT, when the law of diminishing returns really kicks in.
Resolved: The new starting spot for college football overtime is the 50-yard line.
Change No. 2: Targeting
Let’s get one thing straight. The targeting rule is inherently good for the game. Go on YouTube and watch a game from the 1990s. Now that you’ve spent six years watching college football with the targeting rule in place, you’ll be shocked by how many tacklers used to go for the kill shot rather than simply attempt to bring the ballcarrier to the ground. The problem with the targeting rule is the uneven application of the rule and the confusing—even to officials—variables related to the rule.
There is a difference between a tackler who goes headhunting and a tackler who inadvertently makes helmet-to-helmet contact because the ballcarrier moved suddenly in an attempt to escape the tackle. One should be thrown out of the game (and probably should be suspended in addition to the missed time in that game). The other should be allowed to continue playing, but his team should be assessed a penalty for the illegal hit.
The American Football Coaches Association has proposed a solution that draws from basketball and soccer. Basketball has instituted degrees of flagrant fouls that carry different penalties. The coaches would like to see this applied to targeting.
A Targeting 1 call is for the inadvertent contact and would carry a 15-yard penalty but no ejection. This would be similar to a yellow card in soccer. (Presumably, multiple Targeting 1 fouls would result in an ejection.) A Targeting 2 call would go against a player who is headhunting. He would be thrown out of the game (and the first half of the next game if the foul occurs in the second half) and could incur a longer suspension if he gets flagged for a second Targeting 2 penalty in the same season.
This would allow players who are trying to play safely to keep playing and still carry the strict punishments that will discourage intentional headshots. There is no perfect solution for this issue, but this is the best idea yet to encourage the spirit of the rule without harshly punishing people who weren’t trying to do anyone harm.
Resolved: Adopt the AFCA’s suggestion of a two-tiered targeting foul.
Change No. 3: Ineligible receiver downfield
I don’t want to change the rule that allows linemen to be at most three yards downfield when a thrown ball crosses the line of scrimmage. That rule’s flexibility has resulted in some fun offensive innovations. The problem is that when it isn’t called strictly, it gives the offense too much of an advantage. If a safety sees the center six yards past the line of scrimmage, he should be safe to assume the play is a run or a pass behind the line of scrimmage. He should not have to worry about a ball being thrown over his head.
So in the FBS—where every league can afford this expense—an official shall be placed on the sideline three yards from the line of scrimmage. His only job is to look down the line and see if anyone wearing jersey Nos. 50-79 crosses before a thrown ball crosses the line of scrimmage. If he drops enough flags, offenses will stop assuming three yards means five and defenses will be placed at less of a disadvantage.
Resolved: A Scrimmage Judge shall be created to police ineligible receivers downfield.
The rules I’m not changing: Transfer regulations
You’re going to hear a lot of coaches whining about the new transfer rules. Ignore them. They frequently ditch their teams when a better opportunity comes along. They frequently fail to mention to recruits that certain assistants will be leaving after National Signing Day. They regularly encourage players to transfer so they can free up scholarships. The coaches created this atmosphere, and now they’re reaping what they’ve sown.
Besides, the transfer rules as currently constituted are basically the same ones I suggested nearly four years ago. The only difference is that the procedure to get a waiver to allow an undergraduate transfer to play immediately is a little more convoluted, but that’s amazing progress considering how long it usually takes the schools to give in to common sense.
I haven’t changed my stance that an undergraduate transfer should not be easy and that most undergraduate transfers should be forced to sit out a year. This is the part where I agree with the whining coaches. Most pro sports don’t have instant free agency. Free agency has to be earned over a period of years. In college, it can be earned by obtaining a degree.
Watch the cases of Miami quarterback Tate Martell and Texas receiver Bru McCoy carefully. Those will be the litmus tests of the NCAA’s willingness to grant these waivers. Martell transferred to Miami from Ohio State and would like to play immediately because of coaching turnover in Columbus. McCoy, a freshman who graduated high school last month, enrolled at USC and attended classes for a few weeks before having buyer’s remorse—in part because of Kliff Kingsbury’s departure to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals (which McCoy already knew about when he enrolled)—and deciding to transfer to Texas. Had McCoy simply waited to enroll, he would have been able to play for Texas this fall. But under the transfer rules, which went into effect the moment he set foot inside a USC classroom, he’ll have to wait until 2020. Unless he gets a waiver.
I have little doubt quarterback Justin Fields (Georgia to Ohio State) will get a waiver because of a very unique situation. But the two situations described above aren’t that unique. The NCAA panels that handle waiver requests will have to decide how strict they’re willing to be, and that will dictate the transfer market going forward. Just because an athlete hires an attorney doesn’t mean that athlete should get a waiver.
But just because coaches are mad that they’ve had to give up the iron-fisted control they’d prefer doesn’t mean the current rules need to be dialed back toward the stone age. The coaches need to learn to live with them.
A Random Ranking
I left this one up to the people, and my favorite Pittsburgh Panthers beat writer came through with a gem of a topic.
This one hits home for me because I once had a college roommate walk into our apartment and announce “I need to start calling people Chief more often.” Also, because I still laugh every time I think about this…
2. Boss (advanced condescension: Bossman)
4. Sweetheart (or Sweetie)
10. Mate (Brits and Australians are exempt, of course.)
Three And Out
1. Oklahoma State dipped into the Ivy League to find its new offensive coordinator. Sean Gleeson is leaving Princeton to run Mike Gundy’s offense in Stillwater. He’ll replace Mike Yurcich, who left earlier this month to be the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator at Ohio State. Yurcich, you’ll recall, came to Oklahoma State from Division II Shippensburg.
At Princeton, Gleeson ran an offense that led the FCS in scoring (47 points a game) and averaged 7.2 yards a play. He’ll take over an offense that—judging by quarterback Keondre Wudtee’s decision to place his name in the transfer portal—seems to be set up for a takeover by either redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders or senior Dru Brown.
2. Quarterbacks aren’t the only players in the transfer portal. Let Laken Litman guide you through the players who play other positions who have stared into the portal’s gaping maw...
3. Of course, the quarterbacks who have gone through the portal and come out the other side do tend to be among the most popular people on their new campuses.
What’s Eating Andy?
Just a college football coach with two Big 12 titles and two Heisman winners on his résumé hanging out with some older dude.
Also, I think this means Lincoln Riley is going to be the voice of a troll soon.
What’s Andy Eating?
I’m reviewing a restaurant in the Time Warner Center in New York’s Columbus Circle. It is not the place you’re probably thinking. There are a variety of reasons for this.
• While Thomas Keller’s Per Se did earn three Michelin stars, a meal there takes a considerable amount of time. I had 36 minutes to acquire lunch and walk about six blocks to a studio for a radio show.
• The base price for dinner at Per Se is $295, and the price can rise significantly higher depending upon the quality of the add-ons. Even if I’m spending someone else’s money, I’m not spending all that on a meal for myself. That would buy me at least 10 slabs of ribs at Archibald’s in Northport, Ala. That would feed me and at least two friends. Maybe three friends.
Instead, I followed my nose to Bāng-Bar. This David Chang (of Momofuku and Netflix fame) spot announces itself long before it comes into view because of the spicy gochujang-marinated pork shoulder spinning on a spit. If you’ve ever wanted to do the Bugs Bunny-floating-while-being-dragged-by-an-aroma-tractor-beam thing through a luxury mall, this is your chance.
If you arrive at lunch—Bāng Bar also serves breakfast—you’ll see that pork spit next to a chicken spit. You’ll then be presented with a relatively simple menu. Do you want either of these meats wrapped in hot, soft bread (similar to roti), or do you want them in a rice bowl? If you don’t have Celiac disease, you want the wrap. Each one costs $5.79. So get two.
You’ll be tempted to order one pork and one chicken. Don’t do this. You’ll be disappointed. It isn’t that the chicken at Bāng Bar tastes bad. The problem for our noble bird is that the pork is so wonderful—sweet, spicy and savory all at once—that everything else pales in comparison. When you get a look at that bread, you’re going to want more of that, too. So order a Rip & Dip ($2.99) or two and work it off on the treadmill later. These come with spicy eggplant or chickpea dip. Those are great, but you’ll probably just dunk your bread in the spicy sauce that came with your pork wraps.
This all seems so simple, but finding something this good at this price point is incredibly rare. In New York, one of the greatest food cities in the world, the only thing comparable might be the spicy lamb noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods.
I’m sure the folks who dined at Per Se on the day I visited Bāng Bar enjoyed their meals. But I bet I got 90% of the satisfaction for about 5% of the price.