Managing Sports Editor
Delaware head football coach Ryan Carty will have less time to watch professional baseball once the Blue Hens’ fall camp begins Monday, but he remains an avid New York Mets fan. The second-year head coach has seen several months of Major League Baseball’s newly implemented pitch timer capping the time spent between pitches in an at-bat, and starting in the Hens’ Aug. 31 opener at Stony Brook, one comparable rule change will take effect in Carty’s own sport.
NCAA Divisions I and II this fall, and Division III in 2024, will no longer assess game clock stoppages for chain resets at the time of an offense achieving a first down except when that first down is awarded inside two minutes remaining in a half.
With the clock continuing to move on more occasions in a game as a result, proponents of the rule cite expectations of enhanced pace of play and a player safety upgrade by reducing the total snaps played in a contest on average.
“Kind of similar to the pitch clock, I think it’s something that we’ll have to get used to, but I don’t think it’ll affect us too much,” Carty said during CAA Football media day. “It certainly can affect us more than other teams.”
Carty, who calls Delaware’s plays on offense in addition to his head-coaching duties, oversees an offensive system predicated on creativity and a brisk tempo. The up-tempo style, which has increasingly become a norm in college football, could be affected by the clock-stop change, which will generally make even fast-paced offensive drives take more game time.
Delaware’s analytics department estimates the loss of four or five plays per game on offense by each team under the new first-down clock rule, Carty explained.
“If that’s the case, then hopefully we can try to find a way to score a little bit quicker and try to eat back those four to five plays somewhere during the game,” he added.
While Carty is unfazed by the rule alteration, other FCS head coaches, though far from panicked, have the clock on their radars as August approaches.
Saint Francis University head coach Chris Villarrial comes to Newark for his team’s third game this season under the timing change.
“I think you’re gonna have to adapt quick,” Villarrial said at Northeast Conference (NEC) media day. “I don’t think you have time, really, to play with it [excessively in-season].”
Villarrial’s Red Flash return their starting quarterback in 2022 Walter Payton Award finalist Cole Doyle, providing an extra layer of comfort to running the offense in new clock-management conditions.
“He can get into it really quick, knowing how to read coverages, he knows how to read defenses,” Villarrial said of Doyle. “That is definitely a big thing that you’re not wasting a lot of time at the line making a lot of different calls.”
University of New Hampshire head coach Rick Santos will also coach against Delaware inside Delaware Stadium this autumn. He, too, welcomes back an all-conference quarterback in Max Brosmer, whom he trusts to pull all the right levers regardless of the rule revision.
“We’ve talked about it, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s truly gonna change our philosophy, game plan on offense,” Santos said about the game clock while noting that in 2022, UNH slowed its offensive pace to a more pro-style, huddle system, paying more attention to leading time of possession than to previous hallmarks of up-tempo and spread formations.
“If we have a similar type of offense to last year, [the rule change] probably helps us a little bit. We can burn a little more clock,” Santos said.
Elsewhere in New England, Merrimack College head coach Dan Curran understands the thinking behind the modification of the ticker.
“A big rule change was made to try and pick up the pace of the game and allow college football games not to be as long in duration,” Curran said at NEC media day. “As a coach, I’m kind of a purist, so I would’ve preferred to keep it the original rule, but I do think it’s gonna cause coaching staffs to have to adjust how they’re handling in-game situations.”
Curran anticipates natural changes to the traditional “two-minute drill” in which a trailing, hurried offense must move down the field to tie or take a lead in crunch time.
“I think what used to be a two-minute situation now becomes more, depending on if you’re down or where you’re at in the game, now all of a sudden, when you’re within five minutes [you get in a hurry], maybe,” Curran said. “I don’t think everybody knows exactly what that number is gonna be or that time, but I think it’s gonna adjust from two-minute being a hurry-up offense to potentially, if you’re down by multiple scores, you could be in that type of scenario way earlier in the game.”
On the other hand, Curran explained, a team holding a lead and seeking to drain the remainder of the clock could endeavor to get more conservative in play-calling earlier in the fourth quarter given the fewer stoppages.
The first empirical evidence of the rule change’s significance or lack thereof will come in college football’s Week 0 opening games. Curran expects clock management to have different demands when he’s on the sideline with his Warriors. They are preparing for just that.
“We’re doing some research on it right now, but there’s no question it will impact how the game’s being played, beyond just speeding up the game,” Curran concluded.