On the clock
What will the change in the play clock do to high school football in Texas?
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Are you familiar with the “Butterfly Effect”? It’s a key part of chaos theory, the idea that if a butterfly flaps its wings in one place one day, it could cause hurricane in another place another day.
Now, obviously, that’s an extreme example, but it speaks to a larger, more salient point: small changes can have massive effects overall.
Take, for example, a headline you probably missed last October, when the UIL’s Legislative Council announced that Texas high school football games will feature a 40-second play clock instead of the 25-second play clock.
Here’s the gist:
Previously, the play clock was 25 seconds long, but it was not started until the referee marked the ball ready for play. Basically, once the ball was ready at the spot from which it would be snapped, the referee would blow the whistle, and the offense would have 25 seconds to snap the ball.
Now, the play clock will be 40 seconds long, and it will start as soon as the previous play is over. So, a player gets tackled? 40-second clock starts. Player runs out of bounds? 40-second clock starts. Ball falls incomplete? 40-second clock starts.
Now, that doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, right? A slight change in clock management shouldn’t have that big of an impact on the game.
Remember, though, the butterfly effect: small changes, big impacts. And if history is any guide, this minor rule change will make major ripples.
The main issue at hand here is pace of the game — the 40-second play clock will almost certainly shorten the length of high school games next year. And more drastically, it will almost certainly reduce the number of plays in each game.
How do we know this? Because we have data to go back to, to an identical change made just six years ago.
In 2008, the NCAA made the exact same change — moving from the 25-second play clock in 2007 to the 40-second play clock in 2008. Why? For a number of reasons, but chief among them: the NCAA wanted to shorten games. In 2007, the average FBS college football game was three hours and 22 minutes — too long, according to the NCAA.
And the plan worked. In 2008, the average game lasted three hours and 8 minutes, a cool 14 minutes shorter. That may not seem like a big deal, but to the NCAA — who is in the business of making sure you keep watching their games, and especially the commercials that they sell during the games — this was a clear victory.
But even more interesting — at least to me — was the difference in the number of plays run in each game.
In 2007, the last year of the 25-second play clock, FBS college football teams averaged 75.5 plays per game.
In 2008, the first year of the 40-second play clock, FBS college football teams averaged 67.5 plays per game.
And remember, you can’t just think of it from a per-team perspective; there are two teams on the field after all. That means that after the rule change, the average FBS college football game featured 16 fewer plays.
Of the 120 FBS teams at the time of the change, 108 of them ran fewer plays in 2008 than they did in 2007.
Sure, high school teams will adjust — La Marque coach Mike Jackson told us that he’s excited about the new rule, in that it’ll allow his team to get up and go quicker.
But in the end, what should high school football fans expect with the new 40-second play clock? A shorter game with a higher premium on getting the most out of each play.
Greg Tepper is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
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