The start of the 2023 college football season was marked by two big themes: realignment and new rules. While there is no shortage of realignment news on this website, we looked 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.

TL;DR? The new rules did decrease the FBS game length by roughly 4 minutes (1.9%) and 1.8 plays per game (2.6%) compared to 2023 based on NCAA data. It will be interesting to see if the 2024 season sees a similar decrease considering there were numerous weather delays in the early portion of the 2023 season that impacted the numbers shown below.

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.

YearFBS Game LengthFCS Game LengthD2 Game LengthD3 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.

YearFBS Game LengthFBS Plays Per GameFCS Game LengthFCS Plays Per GameD2 Game LengthD2 Plays Per GameD3 Game LengthD3 Plays Per Game
2023 – Final3:2366.73:1665.43:0164.12:5066.3

1/10/2024 Thoughts: With the college football season now over, what can we make of the new timing rules? Well… They had a small but positive impact on game length at the FBS level with a decrease of 4 minutes (1.9%). For the FBS, FCS, and D2 levels, there was a decrease of about 2 plays per game (between 2.6% and 3.2%). The rules are working but the difference simply isn’t noticeable. It should be noted that the Division 3 level did not have the new rules in place and it saw virtually no change. I’m not sure if they need the new rules implemented given how relatively quick their games already are.

12/3/23 Thoughts: There were no changes for the FBS and FCS data, which isn’t a surprise with fewer games. The D2 and D3 game lengths were not posted by the time of this update. There will be one final update after the FBS National Championship game for the FBS, FCS, D2, and D3 that will include all games from the 2023-24 season.

11/26/23 Thoughts: There were no changes for Week 13 except for the plays per game dropping by 0.1 for both the FBS and FCS. The Division 2 game lengths for the second round of the playoffs were not included in the NCAA data at the time of this update but the D3 games were this week.

11/19/23 Thoughts: The FBS game length decreased by 1 minute to 3 hours and 23 minutes. That number is lower than last year and the 2020-21 peak of 3:28 but still higher than the 2013 low of 3:17. Also, the D3 numbers were not posted for Saturday, November 18 so there are no changes to report there.

11/12/23 Thoughts: It was another week of small decreases in game length at the FCS and Division 2 levels while FBS and Division 3 remained the same. The regular season has wrapped up for D2 and D3 as both will begin playoff actions on November 18. With fewer games, it is less likely to be noticeable changes beyond what we’ve seen.

11/5/23 Thoughts: Every division saw game time decrease by one minute except for the FBS, which remained the same (they actually increased by 20 seconds compared to week 9). Any future decreases are likely to be in a similar fashion of only a minute here and there.

10/29/23 Thoughts: There was only one change across the groups we’re tracking and that was a small decrease in Division 2. The D2 game times went down by 2 minutes and plays per game went down a whopping 0.1 from Week 8.

10/22/23 Thoughts: Another week, another update with very little insight as the numbers have stabilized over the last month. The D3 numbers are on par with 2022 already and could see movement closer to 2021’s final results but still higher than pre-2020 seasons. As a reminder, D3 is an interesting case because the new rules were not adopted by them and we also don’t have to worry about commercials.

10/15/23 Thoughts: Not much to report as the numbers have stabilized across all four groups. The FBS year-over-year is down from 2022 for both game length and players per game. The FCS, D2, and D3 lengths are still higher than they’ve been in the last 10 years.

10/8/23 Thoughts: The NCAA uploaded all three divisions at the same time and fixed some of the D2 game lengths so the numbers look much better. Everything is very similar to last week but D2 is now down to 3 hours and 5 minutes of game length after being 3:14 following week five. At this point, it would be great to see the number begin to fall further in the FBS because right now it’s only 3 minutes and 2 plays fewer than 2022.

10/2/23 Thoughts: The NCAA finally posted the D2 data and it’s a complete mess. West Virginia Wesleyan and West Virginia State went from about 3 hours and 10 minutes per game to 14 hours and 40 minutes and 12 hours and 14 minutes, respectively. Not a surprise the game length went from 3:09 in Week 4 to 3:14 in Week 5. If we put those two schools back at last week’s average, the game length is at 3:07, which is in line with other divisions. It’s very frustrating to see this kind of variance.

10/1/23 Thoughts: The FBS game length fell for the fourth week in a row and is now down to 3 hours and 24 minutes. The FCS is back down to 3:21 as it was after week three. The D2 data has not been posted yet so nothing to report there. D3 is down to 2 hours and 55 minutes, which is 3 minutes higher than 2022 and that includes some suspect data we’ve discussed in previous updates. We will update the tables and graphs once the D2 game length is reported. Overall, things are trending in the right direction.

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 with 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 Tables and Charts

WeekFBS Game LengthFBS Plays Per GameFCS Game LengthFCS Plays Per GameD2 Game LengthD2 Plays Per GameD3 Game LengthD3 Plays Per Game
14 (Championship Games)3:2366.73:1665.43:0164.12:5066.3
15 (Army-Navy + Bowls)3:2366.73:1665.43:0164.12:5066.3

Additional Yearly Charts (Updated Through 2023 Season - All Games)

Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics

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