NFL can speed up games by trimming the fat

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If, as NFL Media chief Brian Rolapp recently suggested, the NFL will look for ways to increase the pace of the game, that’s good news — for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that the league is taking the TV ratings dip as seriously as it should. Second, efforts to improve the pace of the game can’t hurt.

The challenge becomes looking for ways to trim fat, without sacrificing the total number of snaps. It would be possible, for example, to start the clock after the ball is set for play following an incomplete pass, like the league has done for years now after an out-of-bounds play with more than five minutes in either half; however, that would serve only to reduce the total snaps in a given game.

The better approach would be to identify all of the moments in a game that tend to bog it down. And the NFL should start with the protracted dog-and-pony show that unfolds during a replay review, which includes a variety of plodding steps as the referee migrates from the middle of the field to one of the coaches to the replay booth, with conversation and communications and more discussions and delays as the referee alone navigates the process of determining whether the ruling should be overturned, where the ball should be placed, and the amount of time that should be on the clock.

It all can be done more quickly and efficiently, either through the replay official on site or the league office. And it definitely should be done more quickly and efficiently.

The league also should study every other aspect of the game in search of situations that delay teams from getting to the next play. While a certain number of breaks are necessary to generate the advertising dollars needed to harvest the billions paid to the NFL for game content, could traditional commercial pauses be supplemented with in-game reads or soccer-style ads that invade the screen while the broadcast remains focused on the game, so that it can resume more promptly?

Beyond the commercial interruptions, are there more efficient ways to keep the game moving? Is a full 40 seconds needed between snaps? Is there a way to communicate penalty information without the referee having to do so? Is there a better method for determining whether a team has earned a first down without a measurement? (There is, but the NFL consistently has refused to embrace laser technology as the replacement for the chain gang.)

Every option should be on the table, and everyone who cares about football should study a game or two from start to finish with the goal of spotting opportunities to create and maintain the sense that the game is moving more quickly than it does.

44 responses to “NFL can speed up games by trimming the fat

  1. I personally don’t want to do away with the referee explaining calls. That is one aspect that I think the NBA could benefit from as all I hear is a whistle and a hand signal from a ref that might not even be on the screen and I am dependent on the announcers to tell me the foul call.
    Make replays shorter and you’ve solved 50% of the problem.

  2. How about removing delays that occur before the PAT, after the PAT, and after kickoffs. Seriously after a touchdown is scored we get three sets of commercials.

  3. Decent officiating would speed the games along too. Seems like half the flags thrown involve a mini conference.

  4. Get rid of kickoffs since this is what they have been leaning towards doing anyway. Speed up the time to execute P.A.T. field goals and punts. Run the clock at a faster pace when the point differential is more than 25 points. Impose sanctums on teams financially (like the Raiders) for having too many penalties. Cut down commercial time during change of possession and place them during halftime or after quarters. Allow the coaches to tell refs to physically stop the clock at 1 second when the situation arises and avoid the 30 second or so run down.

  5. I wouldn’t mind speeding the game up, but the bigger issue is taking away from things like TD celebrations by throwing flags over it and then wondering why people aren’t entertained by a game bogged down by rules designed to make it less entertaining.

    It’s fine to make rules about the hits to the heads and player safety, but there is no legitimate grounds for the penalties for celebrations. If it’s entertainment, let them be entertaining.

  6. Compared to basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis, racing, golf, chess, poker, you name it. All of these programs on TV combined don’t have half the commercials a single NFL game has has.

    There is your problem. You spend more time looking at beer than you do the game.

  7. Getting rid of “touchdown, commercial, kickoff, commercial” would be a start.

    Or play, 2:00 minute warning, commercial, timeout, commercial, etc.

    In other words, get rid of showing commercial breaks close together.

  8. Don’t mess with the 40 second play clock. It was a disaster when GOOD QBs had to adjust from the 25 second stopped clock to the running 45 seconds THE to the current 40 seconds. Like the unintended consequences of the new kickoff rule, I don’t think you want to take the clock down to 35 or 30 seconds, and your team runs out of timeouts, and then everyone is Chip Kelly running plays to fast and only Bill B in New England figuring out how to benefit. QBs are so ill prepared for the CURRENT changes in rules from college to PRO, agree with everyone on reducing commercials but it won’t happen. It is why hockey is so great and done within 2 and half hours and every other sport has too much lag time with slow play and too many timeouts.

  9. If the goal is to turn kickoffs into touchbacks, do away with kickoffs and the commercials that seem to proceed and follow every one of them.

    Turning down the volume when Joe Buck is announcing also seems to make the game less slow and painful.

  10. Some of these suggestions are just plain silly. Start the clock after an incomplete pass? If you’re going to do that, why not just go to running time. Then the game will be over in 90 minutes for sure. I’m guessing if the NFL went back to the same number of commercial breaks as in the 1960s and 1970s, games would once again clock in at about 2:45 or less. It’s like baseball lamenting the ridiculously long games today but completely ignoring the 2-minute 20-second between innings commercial breaks that used to be 1 minute and 10 seconds when I was a kid. At least football doesn’t have a pitching change after every play in the fourth quarter.

  11. Too.



    Scoring touchdowns, going to commercial, only to show the XPA, more commercials, come back to show a kickoff (90% of the time a touchback) and more commercials.

    This has gotten out of hand.

  12. It’s hard to believe that the NFL took away instant reply in the early 90’s. Possibly the greatest comeback of all time may have never happened with instant replay in place.

    The 1993 Oilers-Bills wild card game:
    “Three plays later, Beebe caught a 38-yard touchdown pass on first down to make it 35-17. Replays show that he stepped out of bounds before making the catch. Cris Dishman, who was a cornerback for Houston, still says the noncall cost the Oilers the game.”

    Even as a young kid I thought not having instant replay was odd but the games still seemed enjoyable, if not more enjoyable. The calls were made, good or bad, and the games moved on quickly.

  13. It really just boils down to the commercials. Whenever I watch a game I recorded on my DVR and skip past all the commercial breaks and halftime, the game flies by. On-screen advertising would suck, but it’s better than stopping the game altogether for ads.

  14. As lives get more complicated with kids, work, family and friends, you begin to ask…a 60 minute game with 10-12 minutes of actual action that takes about 4 hours…why do I give so much time to this when I can check scores, get text dates and see highlights. Too much going on to give so much for so little in return.

  15. They should look into increasing the cost of penalties. Sooo many teams flagrantly commit penalties repeatedly knowing the refs will not call all of them. As a result we are witnessing a test of wills between players who refuse to play within the rules and the NFL attempting to force teams to do exactly the opposite. Make consequences more severe for all violations and force everyone to abide by the rules both on and off the field. As for anthem protests: just quit showing the anthem on television.

  16. Too damn many commercials which are also the biggest reason Europeans will never buy in to American gridiron football. Euros can watch soccer for 45 minutes at a clip without interruption. Then the NFL expects them to watch a game that stops play to shill basically almost every five minutes? Nope. Not going to happen.
    If a team ever moves to Europe or England it would be novel for about half a season then attendance and ratings would collapse.
    And honestly I would be for putting soccer style advertising on the unis and the sidelines if it got most of the commercials out of the game.

  17. They could easily speed up the game and improve refereeing by doing one thing. Officiate the games mostly by having the majority of refs watching from the video booth and relaying what they see to the refs on the field. Most of the time the correct call can be made before the ball rolls dead. Plus, instead of a ref “guessing” on calls, and then having a long drawn out challenge, just wait a second so that the refs in the booth can tell you precisely what happened, then make the call. Heck, I can do it from my couch if I had a phone hooked up to the field crew. It’s simple. Why not use technology? Teams don’t travel by horse and buggy.

  18. May I suggest staggered start times? I know it won’t speed up the games, but I can’t stand how their might be 9 early games and like 2 or 3 late.

    Start 4 and 1pm est. 4 at 2:30 est. and 3-4 at 4-4:25 est.

    Constant games throughout the day, all at different stages and possible crazy finishes for 3+ hours for all of us watching at home.

  19. The amount of commercial breaks is killing the NFL. We used to have a whole group of people at any given Super Bowl party that was there just for the commercials.

    The NFL has even managed to kill that aspect for people who could careless about the game, they just don’t realize it yet.

  20. Yup, commercials.

    most annoying part by far is they cut to commercials, then they kick it off, then go RIGHT back to commercials.

    Too many “tv timeouts”. Was it like this in the 70s-80s?

    It’s annoying.

    Less flags too, or more consistent.

    If a flag can literally be thrown in every for PI and holding, what makes them throw it on some of the iffy stuff?

    Send out a memo – unless it’s egregious, let em play

  21. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between this story and the subject it addresses. Never made it past the first paragraph.
    Chronically ironic.

  22. the chain gang needs something to do …

    they’ll be there anyway in case of power outages in the system or some other glitch.

    Here’s to the Chain Gang!

  23. Commercials seem to be the main thing. Only way to fix that is not to watch. As long as you watch, the more advertisers will pay and more money NFL makes.

  24. I hope all these commenters advocating for the elimination of commercials will enjoy watching their NFL on Pay Per View by 2020.

  25. pfatl says:

    there is no legitimate grounds for the penalties for celebrations. If it’s entertainment, let them be entertaining.


    Blame the diva WRs (T.O., Chad, etc) that took it too far and ruined it for the rest of them to celebrate.

    Anyways, I was just as entertained when Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice or Marvin Harrison scored a TD and they just handed the ball to the ref. If you care more about the celebration than the actual scoring, why are you watching football and not DWTS??

  26. 1. Replays should be done either in booth by another official or offsite at HQ like other sports. Before the RED flag is even officially thrown, the official in charge could probably have 20 views & replays & different angles on the play. They could proactively (a foreign word in the NFL) have the answer before the head ref even gets to announce the review. Don’t do it like college though, where the call comes from above, still make the coach throw the flag.

    B. No ref can overturn another refs call. When a ref throws a flag, HE saw that penalty. Right or wrong that is what HE saw. A second ref with a completely different view should not be able to hold court & explain his reasoning for why the first refs call is wrong. That usually starts a pow wow that last minutes & it is happening seemingly every 10th play.

  27. Re: I hope all these commenters advocating for the elimination of commercials will enjoy watching their NFL on Pay Per View by 2020.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    We understand that commercials are needed to pay the freight. The problem is that as the networks’ rights fees have exploded the NFL has allowed the networks to increase the number of commercials. Now we’ve reached the tipping point where the excessive commercials are turning fans off from the games. The NFL had better consider a slightly smaller piece of the revenue pie or risk losing everything to fan apathy.

  28. I love it just the way it is. I have Direct TV and the Sunday Ticket. I’ve got 3-4 games going at once. I love every minute and I haven’t seen a commercial in years.

  29. Get rid of refs huddling for two minutes just to make an offsides or defensive holding penalty. Why do four refs have to get together and discuss every flag like they’re trying to solve the cold fusion equation.

  30. :60 sec commercials become 45 seconds, 30 second commercials become :20 seconds. NFL tells advertisers and their agencies the commercials are a little shorter but will cost you the same. Everybody wins!

  31. The game isn’t too long.

    There are three refs and a half dozen teams that aren’t fit for the league. You’ll instantly make games better by banning the six teams and firing Hockuli, Triplette, and Boogers.

  32. If the refs need their conference times and they are showing commercials during those neccesary delays then get rid of the forced delays. The teams are ready to go right after td, extra point, and scrimmage play. Same for possession changes. When you are getting commercials at those times the teams are being told to hold up while they do a commercial. Also it can be more than one a full break as they stretch it. Meanwhile the teams and everyone in the stadium sits and waits. So if they got rid of those enforced delays and just used the naturally occurring ones that would be a big difference. The problem is the enforced delays are a contractual requirement with the network. If they reduce commercials by any means the network will cry foul and probably have a legal argument. So they will have to agree to get less money from the networks for the games and now why am I even bothering to type this?

  33. Red Zone is my answer. They don’t do commercials and you don’t have to hear “Experts” drone on about some ridiculous fine point.

    I’m an out of state Ravens fan so that is about the only game I will watch if they are being broadcast in my area on my second TV or I do listen to the free radio Ravens’ game but the main event is always of course Red Zone where they don’t do commercials.

  34. “Too many “tv timeouts”. Was it like this in the 70s-80s?

    I don’t know about then but in the 60’s they played the same one hour game as they do today but then it only took about two hours to play instead of the three hour games now.

    The NFL should get on that since on Sunday they could have 4 games at 1, 4 games at 3, 3 games at 5, and 3 games at 1, plus Sunday Night Football at 9

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