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Hank Stern: Improving the Rules of College Football and Basketball

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Photo Credit: iStock

In the spirit of finals starting next week at Oregon’s universities, let’s assess both the college football season that’s wrapping up, and the men’s college basketball season that’s now underway.

College football’s regular season of course winds up this weekend with Oregon in the middle of the frenzied finish to establish the sport’s inaugural four semifinalists. 

The use of a mini-playoff for college football marked a huge improvement this season to determine the sport’s champion. But that long-overdue tweak to a football Final Four should be built upon to become an eight-team playoff in future seasons.

No system will ever end the griping from teams that just miss the cut. The previous Bowl Championship Series title game between the top two teams left the third-ranked team unhappy. This new system of four semifinalists will leave the fifth-ranked team disappointed. In both instances, any of these ticked-off teams would be complaining from a position of having won their conferences.

And an eight-team playoff would leave the ninth-ranked team angry. But an eight-team formula would ensure that the winners of the Power Five football conferences would each qualify automatically as well as leaving three wildcard spots for schools from those conferences or for schools from non-Power Five conferences that are having great seasons, albeit against weaker competition.

So yes, schools from the Power Five conferences could still complain, but they’d have much less of an argument if they couldn’t even win their conference. 

Conclusion: this college football season has seen a great change in the formula to crown a champion but it’s one that can be improved. And yes, Friday night’s Pac-12 title elimination-game tension between Oregon and Arizona would likely remain if they were playing for a spot in an eight-team setup.

The problems with men’s college basketball run much deeper this season and for recent seasons. In essence, the games are often unwatchable in the last few minutes because close contests become drawn-out snoozefests of fouls and time outs—taking the games away from the players and putting it in the micromanaging mitts of preening coaches and their bevy of clipboard-clutching assistants.

So if you are heading to the Chiles Center on Saturday night for the intrastate matchup between the University of Portland and Oregon State or heading down the interstate to Eugene for Sunday’s game between Oregon and Ole Miss, consider these two suggested changes to the final three minutes of games.

1. Since commercial-dependent television will never let college hoops reduce the number of timeouts, how about making coaches decide just how vital each time out is by deducting a point each time they call one in the last three minutes. Down one with 20 seconds to go and you’ve got the ball? Do you trust your players to perform how they practiced or do you have to cost them a point by calling time out to draw up a play? You decide. Either way, make timeouts cost something.

2. One reason college games degenerate into foulfests with three minutes to play and NBA games don’t is the shot clock. (The other reason is that pros in an 82-game season don’t need -- or want -- to drag out relatively meaningless midseason games.) If your NBA team is down, players can gamble that good defense during a 24-second shot clock leaves time for enough offensive possessions to come back. In college, though, a 35-second shot clock means fewer possessions and thus, the need to commit foul after time-consuming foul to get the ball back while hoping the other team misses free throws. So why not reduce the shot clock in the final three minutes to 25 seconds so the game is decided by live play instead of free-throw shooting?

Class dismissed.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.


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