EUGENE, Ore. >> The Pac-12’s test program to shorten games appears to be doing just that.
All non-conference games airing on the Pac-12 Network this season have reduced quarter breaks, while a few have fewer commercial breaks, too. Some games feature 15-minute halftimes.
In the 12 games so far that have been part of the pilot program, game time is down to 3:16, according to the league. Washington’s 63-7 win over Montana last weekend lasted just 2:54. Last season, the Pac-12 averaged 3:26 per game.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said that on the league’s opening week, the test allowed fans watching at home to see all the game between Southern Utah and Oregon and the first play of Western Michigan at USC in a tight broadcasting window.
“My programming folks explained to us that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t implemented some of the initiatives. We would have missed the first series,” Scott said. “There are some things we’re doing around the edges that we can control, around halftime, around commercial breaks, and speeding things up, both in terms of the mechanics and our policies.”
The Pac-12 is not alone. The SEC introduced a few similar new policies this season. The National Football Foundation highlighted game length as a “point of emphasis” this season, pointing out that average length at the FBS level rose from 3:08 in 2008 to 3:24 last season.
It is worth noting that the trend toward speedier offenses — which results in additional plays and touchdowns — has helped lengthen games. But a sneaky source of those added minutes is halftimes, where the 20-minute limit is sometimes stretched by things like on-field coach interviews. A new rule change allowed for coaches to shorten — but not lengthen — halftime by mutual agreement.
Television is a driving force. Scott noted that Week One included four back-to-back-to-back-to-back games on the Pac-12 Network.
“It’s one of the reasons we like the idea of initiatives that speed up the game,” Scott said.
In addition to making sure games fit into TV windows, the format is also designed to give viewers in the stadium a better experience, reducing those pesky “TV timeouts” for commercials — which will no doubt please Pacific Northwest fans sitting in the pouring rain this fall for the Pac-12 After Dark games.
Oregon State coach Gary Andersen likes the idea.
“Ultimately for me I’d like to see a football game be at three hours,” Andersen said. “I think that’s plenty long for the kids that are involved.”
New Cal coach Justin Wilcox also supports the initiative: “I’m for it. I think it’s probably better for everybody to be more efficient during the game. … I know for us the biggest impact will be at halftime. We’ve just got to be really organized and efficient in how we operate during that time.”
But Washington State coach Mike Leach disagreed.
“I’ve never had a problem with game length — games vary a little bit as far as how long they are and that’s fine with me,” he said. “If it were up to me we’d leave the games alone and not mess with them.”
As for the details, the test is being implemented for 15 non-conference games involving league teams this season broadcast on the Pac-12 Network. The Pac-12’s test shortens halftimes from 20 to 15 minutes for seven games. All games have quicker breaks at the quarters, and three games have fewer commercial breaks. Eight games will adhere to a “:01 kickoff time” which seeks to keep opening kickoffs closer to the scheduled broadcast start.
The conference will collect feedback from fans and consult with its coaches, administrators and broadcast partners to evaluate the pilot program after the 2017 season.
Scott acknowledges the league is limited by the rules in what it can do.
“Some of the things are going to be done nationally, so we’re working with representatives we’ve got on the competition committee and the NCAA football oversight committee, to examine the rules — clock management, keeping the clock running (and) not stopping so much,” Scott said. “But we’ll see. It’s a work in progress. But we’re trying to be leaders.”