D-III football likely to delay new clock rules for 1st downs


The NCAA Football Rules Committee appears headed toward delaying Division III’s implementation of the new game clock rule for first downs for a year.

The biggest rule change approved last month for 2023 will have the game clock continue to run when a first down is gained — except in the last two minutes of either half.

Previously, the clock stopped when a first down was gained and restarted on the referee’s signal.

The rule will be used in the Bowl Subdivision, Championship Subdivision and Division II.

It was put on hold in Division III after the division’s management council requested the Playing Rules Oversight Panel refer it back to the Football Rules Committee for further review.

“I think delay a year is the most likely scenario,” Steve Shaw, national coordinator of officials and secretary-rules editor, said in a text to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Shaw said Division III administrators and coaches want to see how the new rule affects games in the upper divisions.

Shaw said player safety and improved game flow were rationales for the change.

Keeping the clock running will take an estimated seven to eight plays out of games and, thus, reduce the number of times players are exposed to potential injury.

He noted the College Football Playoff expansion to 12 teams in 2024 could result in a team playing up to 17 games.

Division III coaches and administrators who oppose the rule say they are satisfied with the current number of plays in their game.

There were an average of 172 per game last season — compared with 178 in the FBS.

Division III has the most football programs of any division, with 240, and its teams generally play 10 games.

FBS teams play a minimum of 12.

A reduction of some 70 plays in a season for a Division III team would amount to about a half game — and mean fewer opportunities for non-starters in a division with no athletic scholarships.

Shaw said the rules committee would vote soon on whether to delay the rule in Division III.

The proposal also would need the OK from the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

Otherwise, the rule goes into effect this year.

There is precedent for staggering the implementation of new rules across all divisions, Shaw said, but he’s wary of creating permanent separate field-of-play rules for different divisions.

“The beauty of college football,” he said, “is if it’s Millsaps playing Sewanee, they’re playing the same game as Michigan and Ohio State.”

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