NCAA changes to college football overtime rules make game less fun

The NCAA approved a handful of rule changes on Thursday including a change to the college football overtime format for multiple overtime games.

Starting next season, teams that go to a second overtime are required to run a 2-point attempt after touchdowns. Previously, this rule was applied when starting the third overtime period. In addition, in games that do go to a third overtime, teams will be required to run alternating 2-point attempts only instead of starting a drive on the 25-yard line. Previously, this rule was applied when starting the fifth overtime.

According to the NCAA, they believe this will help speed up the game by limiting the number of plays from scrimmage.

Essentially, multiple overtime games will resemble penalty kicks in soccer where both sides take turns trying to convert a single play until one of them misses. Many fans have already voiced their displeasure with this format, feeling that it is antithetical to the game. Unlike the NFL, college football is known for its multiple overtimes and the craziness of watching two teams match each other back and forth on drives.

While theoretically, two teams could still play an infinite number of overtimes under the new rules, this decision feels like it was made by a group of people who got tired of watching and just want to go home. After two teams of men have sweat and bled for 60 minutes across a 100-yard field, the new rules reduce games to a single play that is merely more than a coinflip to decide the outcome.

That’s not to say that college football overtime was perfect. Teams allowed to start at their opponent’s 25 are already in a scoring position which feels unearned. Requiring teams to start at midfield or just playing under the NFL’s overtime rules with the exception that both sides are allowed a possession even if the first side scores a touchdown would be a fairer way to determine games. Would this result in longer gameplay? Perhaps it might, but not if smarter rule changes were made.

Of course, for the NCAA, this is all on brand. With games regularly exceeding 3.5 to four hours even without overtime, the organization should consider ways to shorten games. However, changing overtime is one of the last places they should look. Instead, they should consider a running clock after first downs like the NFL (except when maybe under two minutes), or how about fewer unnecessary media breaks and commercials? Of course, they would never consider the latter because that would be antithetical to their beliefs which is just another annoyance that comes at the expense of the sport.

Still, these rule changes do not necessarily mean that we will see fewer overtime periods. The record for the most overtimes in college football is seven with five different games in FBS history reaching that milestone — the most recent being Texas A&M defeating LSU 74-72 in 2018. However, will any future multiple overtime games be nearly as memorable or exciting as these under the new format? The answer is almost certainly not. There might be other seven overtime games, but these will be in name only.

Other college football rules changes

Changes to college football overtime were not the only tweaks that were announced by the NCAA on Thursday. They also supported a proposal to allow conferences to conduct postgame video reviews of suspected feigned injuries. In recent years, faking injuries has become a growing problem usually among defenses that might have trouble keeping up with fast-paced offenses. Players who were believed to be pretending might receive a signal from the sideline to go down to slow the pace of play, much to the consternation of everyone on the opposing team.

Of course, proving that players are faking injuries remains difficult, and postgame video reviews only might serve to cause coaches to be more subtle in their signals to players to take a dive. Instead of blatantly waving their hands around to tell a defender to go down, expect them to incorporate these instructions as a small gesture or maybe even a sign that an assistant could hold up from the sideline.

Perhaps a better solution would be to sit supposedly injured players on the sideline for the remainder of a drive if play has to be stopped due to injury which would be similar to the rule if a player’s helmet comes off. It is at least a suggestion to an issue where noncontact injuries and cramps happen all of the time.

Finally, the NCAA also made a point of emphasis to crack down on unsportsmanlike penalties and uniform violations. The new policies include zero tolerance for taunting directed towards opponents, and coaches will be penalized for entering the field of play or leaving the team area to debate officials’ calls.

In addition, these rules apply to video board and lighting system operators in the stadium who “may not create any distraction that obstructs play.” Whether that means Minnesota will be allowed to show the dramatic gopher (which is actually a prairie dog) on their jumbotron during opponents’ field goals remains to be seen. Still, this feels like the type of thing that the NCAA would have an opinion on.

In the end, these rule changes are small issues in an offseason when the debate continues surrounding players’ right to profit off of a sport that uses them to earn millions while cheating is almost certainly happening in the transfer portal across various sports. File Thursday’s news as just another misadventure for the Barney Fife of athletic governing bodies.