Giving the Gridiron the Bird on Turkey Day (and Why)

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December 9, 2014 by Keith Brake

I came up short on NaNoWriMo. Way short. Ausfallen, Epic Fail, etc. But I’m still going to work toward publishing 50,000 words and will continue to update this blog as ideas roll around in my head, but as long as I enjoy eating regularly, updates will be consistently inconsistent. In the meantime, keep reading and enjoy.

To be brutally honest, I have little interest in the NFL as a spectator anymore. I see it in short bursts, and I keep up with the scores as part of my profession, but I don’t really care, and my Sundays aren’t missing anything by not watching the Tennessee Titans huddle around their fire in a barrel on the east side of the Cumberland River.

D'Vauntes Smith-RiveraDuring Thanksgiving, I was more than content to watch the Battle 4 Atlantis, including a dramatic afternoon game that saw Wisconsin hang on to beat ridiculous sharpshooter D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Georgetown, but my father insisted on watching NFL football. We caught a bit of the Lions’ rout of the Bears and the early stages of Eagles/Cowboys later that day. I don’t readily recall much of the first game (except Jim Nantz annoyingly referring to Calvin Johnson as “Megatron” on every play and Phil Simms spending way too much time talking about his mother’s peach cobbler), but I remember the action of the second game very vividly.

After a rendition of the national anthem performed by Leann Womack accompanied by steel guitar (because it’s Texas and steel guitar is required by law), Philadelphia got the ball first, and Chip Kelly’s offense went right to work under, of all people, Mark Sanchez. They marched the ball 80+ yards for a touchdown with an up-tempo offense that rarely used more than half the play clock, with the Artist Formerly Known as Butt-Fumbler diving in for the score. Even the TV crew was off balance because of the offense, barely squeezing in replays and leaving Joe Buck and Troy Aikman scrambling (something Aikman never did all that well).

This is how football is supposed to look, I told myself. The offense moved at a brisk pace and kept the game engaging. It’s how most high school games are played.

Sanchez’s touchdown was up in the air and went to video review because they weren’t NFL Media Timeoutssure if his knee hit the ground before he broke the plane. After discussing the replay in detail, Fox went to commercial break for 90 seconds. The call was upheld, the extra point was kicked, and the Eagles led 7-0 all in the span of about a minute.

Fox promptly took a two minute commercial break.

Dallas got the ball, and it was time for Attack of the Trudge. Use the full play clock, run for two or three yards, use the full play clock, incomplete pass, use the full play clock and call a bunch of audibles (some of which might just be static to throw off the defense), get a first down, repeat until punt, then another commercial before the Eagles got the ball back, at which point it was back to Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas for me.

You’re probably now digging up the Wall Street Journal article from 2011 that cited an average of 11 minutes of actual gameplay in the NFL, which also shows the typical telecast featuring 17 minutes of replays and a whopping 67 minutes of players and coaches just milling about, while commercials eat up somewhere in thcraig-ferguson-goodbyee ballpark of an hour in a typical three and a half hour NFL broadcast.

It’s true, there are a ton of commercials during the weekly NFL games in [your region]. The league mandates ten media timeouts each half, with two at fixed points: the end of the first and third quarters, and the two minute warning in the second and fourth quarters. Compare this with the typical college football game, where eight media timeouts are mandated each half (and there is no two-minute warning). In college, these breaks are typically 60-90 seconds, where they’re more likely to run upwards of
two minutes in the NFL, and both varieties see upwards of three minutes between quarters. That’s mostly driven by demand for advertising space, but, in all honesty, if the NFL were to find some way to trim that to 8 displays of the over-sized oven mitts and TV networks put more advertising on things like the line to gain, or their on-screen graphics, would that bother anybody?

Don’t even get me started on the two-minute warning. Unlike Canadian football’s three-minute warning, the clock rules don’t change after that stoppage, making it a complete waste of time for everyone except the networks. That said, I’m more concerned about ways the NFL can affect the flow of the game without eating into its commercial space. (Because, let’s be honest, the NFL won’t do that and doesn’t really have a reason to do that unless it wants to create greater scarcity for its product.) That sends us back to Canada for a solution:

Cut the play clock in half.

Seriously, Peyton Manning, en route to being one of the greatest quarterbacks and greatest offensive strategists the sport has ever seen, has ruined the flow of the game by eating up every last second of the 40-second play clock, which not only keeps the Peyton Manninggame stagnant for long stretches of time, but also creates dead time on the game clock; part of that 11 minutes of action the Journal referred to. By reducing the time between plays to 20 seconds like Canadian football (or similar to high school football, which uses a 25 second play clock), the league can significantly increase the amount of legitimate game action and the speed at which that action occurs with very little change to its commercial landscape.

Consider: the typical NFL game has 154 plays requiring a play clock. Twenty seconds removed from each play is 3,080 seconds, or 51:20. If 25 minutes of that becomes play time, the NFL has increased the amount of game action from 11 minutes to 36, or, for a more marketing-friendly number, a whopping 227% without putting a dent in commercial time AND reducing the overall time of a game by about 20 minutes. That’s
Booker T Jonesnot a perfect solution, and it doesn’t account for how possible fluctuation in passing frequency (which would guarantee more of the game clock used, but make the games longer), but the important thing is progress:

If not today,
Maybe tomorrow.
If not tomorrow,
Maybe in a week?

Of course, there is little impetus for the NFL to change. That Eagles/Cowboys game I mentioned earlier drew 32 million viewers, numbers that are virtually impossible for networks to get in this day and age with audience fragmentation and the advent of online streaming. Everyone seems to be happy with the product. What will it take to get the NFL to speed along the agonizing pace on the modern gridiron? That old mantra of, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch,” finally hit me where I live, and it’s only a matter of time before the same problem that has baseball stuck in a rut becomes a problem for the game that overtook it as America’s pastime at the end of the last century.

Word Count: 1,131
Total Word Count: 4,127

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