The raves for Monday night’s college football national championship game keep on coming—justifiably. The game was played between two superb teams and it was decided with one second left when Clemson’s brilliant quarterback DeShaun Watson threw a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow—a former walk-on–to give the Tigers a 35-31 win.
What made the game so stunning was that Alabama’s defense crumbled in the fourth quarter. The fact that the Alabama offense sputtered in the second half, whether because it had a new coordinator or not, clearly appeared to be a factor. No defense—no matter how great—can be on the field non-stop against a relentless offense like Clemson’s without getting gassed.
And so, most of the college football world is celebrating because the folksy and charming Dabo Swinney beat the not-so-folksy and not-so-charming Nick Saban in the kind of crucible game that Saban usually owns.
Clemson has been a wanna-be national power for a long time. It won a national title in 1981 only to have it sullied by an NCAA investigation that landed the Tigers on probation and eventually ran Danny Ford out of town.
Now, Clemson has an un-sullied and joyous national title. There aren’t many places more fun to go watch a football game than Clemson. Oh sure, the fans expect to win just like at Alabama and all the other national powers, but there’s a sense of fun and if you don’t enjoy hearing, ‘Tiger-rag,’ well then you don’t enjoy very much at all.
All of that said, there was a major problem with Monday night; a problem that pervades college football and sports in general: Monday’s game ended—on the east coast—on Tuesday morning.
College football games take much too long. So do college basketball games; NFL games; Major League Baseball games and golf tournaments. Hockey is still reasonable but the 19 minutes between periods is much too long.
The worst offender is college football. A lot of the problem is easily fixable with a simple, sensible rules change: don’t stop the clock on first downs until the final two minutes of the first half and the game. Why in the world do you need to stop the clock on a first down with 14:06 left in the first quarter?
You don’t. My guess is that rules change would take at least 20 minutes off of each game. There’s also no reason for a 20-minute halftime. The TV networks don’t have to lose any commercials—which is the reason for the extra five minutes—they can just dump one talking-heads segment and do everyone watching a favor. The NFL has a 12-minute halftime and the networks get all the commercials in that they need to get in.
I don’t want to say the Rose Bowl took a long time but I was beginning to wonder if they were going to have to change the on-screen font to “the 2018 Rose Bowl,” before it was over.
Of course the Super Bowl halftime is 40 to 45 minutes, which is ridiculous in the most important game of the year, but God knows how much the NFL makes by bringing in some act to perform at halftime while a bunch of dopes get to go down on the field and sway and swing their arms before they’re escorted out.
There’s also the starting time, especially for night time championship games—which is all championship games including the World Series, except the Super Bowl, which kicks off at about 6:30 eastern time.
There’s no reason why either college championship game needs to start as late as they do. The football game should kick-off at 7:30 eastern (latest) with all the pre-game hype coming before that. It should not be advertised (including a countdown clock on ESPN) as starting at 8 and then start at 8:20 so people who have been babbling about the game for nine days can babble some more with a couple more commercials thrown in.
If the game ends between 10:30 and 11 eastern, that’s still late enough that people on the west coast are home and will boost the late-game ratings by tuning in. That’s not to mention what time the fans who actually paid huge dollars to be AT the game got home or back to their hotels. It’s amazing how little regard is ever shown for those who actually go to games by the TV networks. They simply don’t care.
The NCAA basketball title game kicks off these days about 9:20 eastern, meaning with all the time-outs the (yes) 20-minute halftime and all the damn replays, it never ends before 11:30.
Seven years ago, when Duke played Butler in the title game, I was sitting next to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. With 30 seconds left, Butler rebounded a Duke miss and called time out, down 60-59. Smith leaned over to me and said, “Okay, you’re a Duke graduate. You are also the ultimate defender of the little guy (since I always rip the committee for not giving the non-power schools enough respect) so what do you want to see happen here?”
I looked at my watch. It was 11:37. My absolute, drop-dead deadline for the Washington Post’s home delivery edition was midnight. I’d written most of my column, with places where I could make changes depending on the outcome and then write the top as soon as the buzzer sounded.
“Gene, the only thing I’m rooting for is for someone to win the f—- game in regulation,” I said. “I’ve got to hit the send button in 23 minutes and overtime will kill me.”
Duke won in regulation and I filed with two minutes to spare. I’m honestly not sure if the column was even in English because I had to write so fast—and I’m faster than most. If the game had started an hour earlier, I could have written a decent column.
I don’t really matter though, especially in the age of the internet. The college championship games are played now on a Monday night. Kids have to go to school the next day and parents have to go to work. How many kids were watching at 12:20 when Watson lofted his final pass?
There’s just no reason for the games to start so late. I don’t care if TV makes a few more advertising dollars—tell them to stop overpaying for events. Tell the leagues to show some respect for their fans and take a few less TV dollars. No one is going to go broke.
There is also the issue of replay—in all sports. I was all for replay when it first came in because what was wrong with trying to get calls right?
But it has now become a pox. It is used far too often and takes far too long. Last night, I was watching the end of the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game. Kentucky was up 85-81 when Malik Monk went to the basket and was fouled with 2.1 seconds left. The game was OVER—even if he missed both shots. But no, the officials had to go to replay to see if perhaps the foul was a flagrant-1. They took three minutes to decide it wasn’t. I did a game a couple weeks ago where, one minute in, the officials stopped the game because they thought the 30-second clock had started late. Sure enough, three minutes later, they took ONE second off the clock—moving it from 24 to 23.
In the NFL every scoring play and every turnover has to be reviewed. In college, any personal foul has to be reviewed. What the hell are we paying the on-field officials for?
Replay should be used ONLY to correct blatant mistakes on important plays: not to adjust a clock by one second with 39 minutes to play.
Go back to the original NFL rule: Coaches get two challenges and lose a timeout if they lose a challenge and the booth can review turnovers and touchdowns in the final two minutes. That’s it. Make college officials earn their money by deciding if a foul in basketball merits a technical on their own and if a personal foul in football merits by LOOKING at the play. There are eight of them out there for crying out loud.
And, in all sports, if the officials reviewing a play can’t decide one way or the other in 90 seconds or less, the call stands. No more five minute waits when most of us can figure out what the right call is in less than a minute.
Sports are a wonderful diverson for everyone. I still love going to games or hunkering down to watch a game or games on a given day or night. But there’s no reason for any game to take longer than three hours—barring extra innings in baseball or postseason overtime in the NFL or NHL. While we’re at it, five hour-plus rounds in golf are ridiculous. If Jason Day was looking over a putt when I began writing this, he would not yet have putted. And he’s not alone.
So let’s revel in Monday night’s spectacular game. And hope that at some point in the future we won’t have to wait until Tuesday for the outcome.
John Feinstein is the author most recently of, “The Legends Club,” which spent six months on The New York Times bestseller list…He is also the author of 10 kids mysteries, the latest being the “DH.” The first of those books, “Last Shot,” won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for mystery writing in the young adult category. He tweets at @JFeinsteinbooks.