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2-minute warning is (probably) coming to college football — but why?

Mar 5, 2024, 2:04 PM

UW Huskies Oregon college football 2 minute warning...

The UW Huskies and Oregon Ducks line up for a play during a 2023 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When college football’s rule-makers gathered last offseason to make the games shorter — or at least attempt to — one obvious adjustment landed in their crosshairs: eliminating brief clock stoppages after first downs.

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Since 1968, the clock would stop long enough after first downs — typically for 5-10 seconds, give or take — for the chains to move and the officials to put the ball back in play. It was the starkest difference between clock rules in college and the NFL, and it was believed that eliminating those stoppages would cut down on total plays and, therefore, game time.

The one exception, of course, was inside the final two minutes of each half. During that time, the clock still stops after first downs, just like before. Steve Shaw, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials, made clear that it had to be this way, to protect the sanctity of wild finishes. And that made sense.

“By stopping the clock it gives teams an opportunity to make a comeback,” Shaw told The Associated Press last year. “Everybody on the committee was resolute: we’re not going directly to the NFL rule.”

Why, then, does college football need a 2-minute warning?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t, but it appears to be coming, anyway, as the NCAA Football Rules Committee recommended Friday that the sport adopt a two-minute timeout in both the second and fourth quarters, just like in the NFL. The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel must vote to adopt the rule at an April meeting, but that should be considered little more than a formality.

“The two-minute timeout will allow all end-of-half and end-of-game timing rules to be simplified and sync up with this timeout,” Shaw said in a release. “This will also help broadcast partners to avoid back-to-back media timeouts.”

Hey, at least the NCAA is willing to acknowledge who actually runs the sport.

It’s true that a few rules are different in the final two minutes of each half, but no serious person can believe that an automatic timeout is necessary to remind involved parties that they’ve entered the final two minutes.

Rather, this feels like yet another rules change seemingly intended to create more late-game drama — despite the fact that maintaining post-first-down clock stoppages already addressed that issue, and that college football never lacked such chaos to begin with.

The added commercial break might not be a major concern, so long as it takes the place of a media timeout that would have otherwise occurred. And it could be the case that conspiracy theories about TV executives selling extra commercial time are not reflected by reality.

Mostly, this just feels like college football taking another step toward aligning itself with the NFL, a process years in the making on multiple levels: the sport’s continued stratification toward super leagues; conferences realigning around the most lucrative TV properties; stadiums blaring piped-in music at the expense of marching bands; decisions made across the board in the name of revenue maximization; and, now, two added timeouts nobody was clamoring for.

(One proposed change nobody should complain about? The implementation of coach-to-player communication through helmets. Sometimes, it’s best to emulate the pros.)

I suppose it’s ultimately a short-term gripe, one more minor complaint that will eventually feel like a natural part of the game. But I can’t imagine I’ll be alone in rolling my eyes at the first 2-minute warning of 2024, wondering how long it will be before the structure of college football becomes indistinguishable from the NFL.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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