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Zemek: The Auburn-South Carolina Time Issues

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Oct 3, 2011


As the end of the Auburn-South Carolina showed, it’s time to change the way we talk about in-bounds first downs in college football.


CFN Analysis 

5 Thoughts, Oct. 3


- Fiutak: Will LSU vs. Bama be for the title?
- Cirminiello: Russell Wilson is what the game needs 
- Zemek: The time problem at South Carolina
- Sallee: Georgia is back in the SEC title hunt
- Mitchell: What's wrong with South Carolina
- Harrison: What went wrong with Ohio State  

By Matt Zemek

As the end of the Auburn-South Carolina showed, it’s time to change the way we talk about in-bounds first downs in college football.

As long as I’ve followed college football – the first game I can remember watching as a kid was the 1981 Gator Bowl between Arkansas and North Carolina – I’ve thought that the clock stops after a first down gained on a play that ended in bounds. Five years ago, I did some research on the subject – research that should have changed my vocabulary – but I really didn’t stop to reconsider.

Now we should know better.

From now on, college football commentators cannot accurately say that the clock stops precisely when a first down is gained in bounds. No, the clock stops when the officials are good and ready to blow the play dead following a first down gained in bounds. The officiating mechanics displayed in the final seconds of Auburn-South Carolina were not irregular.

Five years ago – on October 16, 2006 – the subject of endgame clock management by officials was a popular topic. In prior weeks, two games – Washington at USC and Kentucky at Florida – had endgame (or end-of-half) situations marred by controversies that arose from the ways in which officials administered situations following first downs gained in bounds, and without the timeouts needed to freeze the clock for the next play.

It’s not irregular for a few seconds to drain from the clock after the end of a first down-gaining play that stays in bounds. In just 54 minutes of watching just one monitor and wearing out just one remote control, all of these multi-second time lags were uncovered:

Instances of two-second time lags were as follows: Wisconsin first down vs. Minnesota at 9:19, first quarter (play ended at 9:21); Syracuse first down vs. West Virginia at 5:40, first quarter (play ended at 5:42); Iowa vs. Indiana, 3:51, 1st (3:53); West Virginia vs. Syracuse, 13:07, 2nd (13:09); N.C. State vs. Wake Forest, 10:49, 2nd (10:51).

But wait, it just gets better. The three-second time lags like the one that hurt Washington against USC (from five seconds to two)--and made aghast national commentators apoplectic with righteous indignation--were in evidence in the first 54 minutes of a columnist's Saturday in front of the tube.

Iowa vs. Indiana, 3:29, 1st (3:32); Georgia vs. Vanderbilt, 4:02, 1st (4:05); Georgia vs. Vanderbilt, 3:33, 1st (3:36).

Oh, but you still ain't seen nothin' yet. In the second quarter of the Wake-NC State game, a Wolfpack receiver was tackled at the Demon Deacon 1, after which the ball came out late. The ball was correctly ruled down, but in the attempt to make a ruling on that live-action sequence, the officials didn't immediately stop the clock. It took FIVE seconds--from 10:21 to 10:16--for the clock to be stopped. Where's the outrage there? Someone got robbed of five precious seconds.

And here's the topper, or as Oscar Madison once said, "the ever-lovin' lulu of all time," in the Vandy-Georgia game, a play that ended at the first-down marker--and gained first-down yardage after a measurement--was not followed by a clock stoppage until fourteen whole seconds ticked off the Sanford Stadium clock. It took from 11:28 to 11:14 of the second quarter for someone to put a halt to the proceedings in Athens.

Remember, everyone: all this info--the six 2-second time lags, the three 3-second lags, the single 5-second lag; and a 14-second measurement lag (that's 11 total incidents of loose clock management)--came from watching snippets of games on one monitor over 54 minutes. One can safely assume that if one watched a full day of football (13 hours of games in all time zones) on one monitor alone, that number would reach at least 120 if the viewer was a vigilant and appreciably experienced channel surfer. Give someone five monitors for 13 full hours, and that number likely reaches (at the very least) 200. Apply that figure to all the TV games that took place in all of Division I-A on one weekend (beyond anything five monitors can handle), and that number will go much, much higher. Then include every single non-TV game as well, and you have a gigantic number. An overall figure of 500 would be quite conservative.

The contention that two- or three-second time lags are regular occurrences in college football after first-down plays is a contention that has been backed up with solid evidence. No one who was REALLY paying attention should have been the least bit outraged or shocked after the Washington-USC game, which--for the record--was preceded earlier in the season by a first-half flap involving Kentucky and Florida. The defense rests – or gets to rest.

So, was the Auburn-South Carolina ending unusual as a matter of officiating procedure? Hardly. The problem is that coaches and players (not to mention fans) have an expectation that the clock stops when a first down is gained in bounds. It is now clear that this statement – while perhaps true in a very expansive sense – isn’t precisely true at a level of granular and microscopic detail. This reality carries profound implications for the ways in which endgame or end-of-half situations are treated – by coaches, players, fans, writers, broadcasters, and most of all, by the people who revise and evaluate college football’s rules and officiating procedures each year.

- Fiutak: Will LSU vs. Bama be for the title?
- Cirminiello: Russell Wilson is what the game needs 
- Zemek: The time problem at South Carolina
- Sallee: Georgia is back in the SEC title hunt
- Mitchell: What's wrong with South Carolina
- Harrison: What went wrong with Ohio State