The start of the 2023 college football season has been marked by two big themes: realignment and new rules. While there is no shortage of realignment news on this website, we want to look at how the new rules have impacted the pace of the game. The table below will be updated as more weeks are completed and data becomes available from the NCAA for Division 3 game lengths.
What are the New Rules?
The powers that be determined in the offseason that new timing rules were needed to speed up the games. In short, the clock no longer stops after a first down except for the final 2 minutes of each half. In addition, untimed downs at the end of the first and third quarters were eliminated. Finally, one team cannot call consecutive timeouts, which is typically used for icing the kickers at the end of a half or game. We have an article from 2022 discussing what can be done to shorten games. In that article, we had a table showing the length of games at the FBS, FCS, Division 2, and Division 3 levels and we’ve included it below for reference.
|Year||FBS Game Length||FCS Game Length||D2 Game Length||D3 Game Length|
2023 vs. Previous Years (Annual Data)
A few caveats to the table below should be noted. It takes an average of the NCAA’s numbers, which isn’t perfectly accurate but the numbers are close to other sources. A second issue is that only one week has been played meaning the averages could change noticeably after another 750+ games are played.
Also, data is not available D3 games from the NCAA as of this posting The D3 data was posted late on the morning of September 5 and has been included below. It should be noted the new timing rules are not in effect for D3, which makes them a good control group to compare against. Finally, weather delays that happen during the game are counted in the elapsed time in the NCAA’s data. For example, Arizona State’s opening game against Southern Utah lasted 6 hours and 6 minutes due to a 2-hour and 45-minute weather delay.
|Year||FBS Game Length||FBS Plays Per Game||FCS Game Length||FCS Plays Per Game||D2 Game Length||D2 Plays Per Game||D3 Game Length||D3 Plays Per Game|
(Thru Week 4)
9/24/23 Thoughts: Alright, now we’re seeing the numbers return to a more normal level after the weather delays in week 2. This is true for every level except the FCS, which has shown an increase to 3 hours and 23 minutes after being 3:21 in week three.
Why, you ask? It’s due to the McNeese-Alcorn State game from week three. Yes, the week three game that was previously shown taking 3 hours and 29 minutes is now showing as a 14-hour game according to Alcorn State’s website. Yeah, we can’t explain the change. Without that game, it would have the FCS closer to 3:20 and it speaks to how fragile the data input can be from week to week.
The number of plays has been steady each week for each division but we’ll be keeping an eye on that as the season goes on when weather might be a factor (i.e. more running plays). The big takeaway this week is the game lengths are beginning to normalize and still remain to other data sources. We may see a slight decrease as we go through October. How much is to be determined and nature can always play a factor.
9/17/23 Thoughts: There were some weather delays in week three but nothing like what we saw the previous weekend. Overall, the numbers are down slightly by 2 minutes for the FBS games and 4 minutes for the FCS games. D2 is still unreliable as the game length increased 2 minutes from the previous week. There was an improvement in D3 this week as well with a four-minute decrease to 2 hours and 59 minutes. Plays per game seem to be holding right around an average of 64 to 66 plays with slight increases this week for the FCS and D2 (both went up 0.5 plays per game).
Due to the weather delays last week and a few more this week, there’s not a big takeaway… again. It is good to see the numbers start to drop, albeit slowly. The next few weeks will be interesting as long as we don’t have many more weather delays.
9/10/23 Thoughts: The numbers are in for the FBS and FCS and they’re not as bad as expected. FBS game lengths went up 4 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes despite numerous games being delayed multiple hours, which inflates the number. The FCS game length went up by 6 minutes to 3:25 but they too were plagued by weather delays. The D3 data looks better with an average of 3 hours and 3 minutes but the incorrect numbers from last week remain. Removing the six teams that were incorrect in week one, the game length is 2:58, which is more in line with previous years. The skewed data from week one will eventually average out by the season’s end.
There’s really no big takeaway for FBS and FCS this week because of the weather delays. Anecdotally, there seemed to be a lot more stoppages this week due to targeting, replays, and injuries compared to last week but that’s a feeling and not concrete data. There’s a table and chart below showing the weekly change for the 2023 season.
9/9/23 Thoughts: This update is being posted mid-afternoon and the number of weather delays impacting games stands around a dozen. The weather delays are mostly in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions but even the West Coast (San Jose State) has seen a delay. Each delay adds at least 30 minutes to the game length and the NCAA data for week 2 will be skewed as a result.
9/5/23 Thoughts: The NCAA finally uploaded the D3 game data and it’s somehow the worst Division despite the new timing rules not being used by them? A closer look at the data reveals some serious outliers. The NCAA says the Alma-Northern Ohio game lasted 7 hours and 18 minutes but the Alma live stream from YouTube was 3 hours. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also have the McMurry-Birmingham Southern game lasting for 21 hours and 52 minutes!! There were no reports of delays in either game and it’s clear that those games are incorrect if you look at the Twitter feeds.
There’s also the Hobart-Alfred game that apparently took no time because they both had 0:00 for game length. As easy as it would be to crush the NCAA for these glaring mistakes, they get the data from the school via whichever stat provider the school/conference uses. We honestly don’t know if those errors will ever be corrected after the fact so we’ll keep an eye on them going forward for D3. Removing those three games from the sample changes the average game length to a far more sensible 2:59. However, that’s still a 7-minute increase (4%) from last year with no timing changes implemented.
For the sake of consistency, we will use the “official” NCAA stats (and we use ‘official’ very loosely based on our simple data inspection) across all three divisions but will make stipulations as needed.
9/4/23 Thoughts: Well… the early returns aren’t great. The total plays are down slightly for FBS (3.2%), FCS (4%), and D2 (3.1%) as expected with the clock running more frequently but game length isn’t down. It’s odd that D2 saw a 12-minute increase (6.6%) in game length compared to 2022. It’s not like D2 has a ton of linear TV games and relies upon advertising to pay for the huge TV contracts they have as we see in the FBS. To be fair, it’s only been one week and that number could go down closer to 3 hours as the season continues although it looks like some of the reported game lengths are incorrect.
One thought after the opening week is that strategy might come into play. Coaches and offensive coordinators are getting a feel for the new rules so their playcalling may have changed slightly. If they’re worried about the clock, they may call more pass plays, which means incompletions and the clock stopping to conserve time but that’s another 40 seconds of real-time added to game length. This is all speculation without any hard data (anyone out there have a breakdown on passing and rushing plays year-over-year?) but it’s likely this happens closer to the end of the halves rather than the opening two drives but it’s something to consider.
One possible upside to think about is that week one typically has the worst conditioning for football players with cramps and minor injuries that stop the game. On top of that, the refs are getting used to the changes, focusing on replays, or ensuring targeting has been adjudicated correctly. Coaches are also adjusting their strategies to the new rules as well. That’s all theoretically speaking, of course, and we’re trying not to jump to the cynical conclusion after one week that this was all a ploy to increase the number of commercials.
We’ll keep a record of our
prisoner-of-the-moment overreactions thoughts each week after the numbers are updated. We’ll also add a new table after week two’s games to show the cumulative change week-by-week.
2023 Weekly Change Table and Chart
|Week||FBS Game Length||FBS Plays Per Game||FCS Game Length||FCS Plays Per Game||D2 Game Length||D2 Plays Per Game||D3 Game Length||D3 Plays Per Game|
|14 (Championship Games)|
|16 (Bowls + CFP)|
Additional Yearly Charts (Updated Through Week 4)
Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics