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September 21, 2013

10 ways to improve college football

College football is a great game, but not a perfect game. Yet. Here are 10 rule changes I feel the NCAA should adopt to make the sport even better:

1. Decrease the number of practices and shrink the calendar for preseason camp: Right now, preseason camp is way, way, way too long both in terms of the maximum number of practices (29) and the total number of days allowed (four weeks). South Carolina started camp on Aug. 2 and didn't play the season opener until Aug. 29. Frankly, college teams don't need 27 days in this technology-driven era where information is shared more easily compared to 20 or 30 years ago. The number of practices could painlessly be sliced to 24 and the calendar time cut to three weeks. In effect, shrink preseason camp by one week. The quality of the game surely won't suffer. In fact, it will probably improve because players will feel fresher for the season.

2. Allow teams to scrimmage one other school during preseason camp: What's the biggest grumble I hear every year from coaches and players? Around the three-week mark, everybody is unanimous in saying the players are tired, worn out and bored from hitting the same players in practice every day. USC's first scrimmage every August is typically a "young players' scrimmage in which the starters play a series or two and then head to the sidelines for good. Why couldn't that scrimmage be against another local school? Why couldn't USC scrimmage S.C. State or Newberry at Williams-Brice Stadium instead of just the Gamecock offense facing the Gamecocks defense? Good question. Charge a small admission ($5) and donate the money to charity.

3. Reduce the number of timeouts allowed per team in a game: Three timeouts per team per half is an ancient relic in this era when every game is on TV. There are already plenty of TV timeouts per quarter. Then we potentially pile on six more timeouts between the two teams? USC's first three games have lasted 3:11, 3:18 and 3:38, meaning the games are getting progressively longer. More than 3-1/2 hours to play a college football game? Ridiculous. But this is hardly the first season we've seen games exceed that mark. We know the number of TV stoppages are not going down. Give each team one timeout per half and if they don't use it in the opening 30 minutes, they can carry it over into the second half. Some coaches will probably complain loudly, so the solution is. . .

4. Add a two-minute warning at the end of each half: Why not? TV executives are happy because they have a predetermined time when they know they can run their precious advertising spots. In addition, it gives coaches an additional two or three minutes to talk to their players on the sidelines, softening the blow from having fewer timeouts in their pockets. OK, they'll be stealing this idea from the NFL, but so what?

5. Widen the neutral zone: Watch any college or NFL game and then turn to a CFL game. Notice anything different? Well, one major distinction is the neutral zone is one yard wider in the Great White North than in the good 'ol USA. I like the CFL rule better. Want to open up the game and give quarterbacks a split second longer to throw the ball? Expand the distance from the defensive line to the quarterback (the long-held theory in support of shotgun snaps). It will also decrease the number of times per game the QB is hit by opposing defenders, lessening the chances for injury.

6. Liberalize the holding rule: Stop the charade. Somewhere in the rulebook is a section supposedly declaring that offensive players aren't allowed to grab the jersey of an opposing defender. But, as we've seen in the SEC, holding is rarely called nowadays in an effort to help the offenses (and increase scoring and boost TV ratings). So, let's just put in a rule stating that as long as an offensive player grabs the front of the jersey in the vicinity of the numbers, holding won't be called. But if the defender is grabbed around the shoulder pads or arms, that's holding. Just don't hold your breathe waiting for it to be called.

7. Create an exclusive tackling zone between the top of the knees and shoulder pads: Why delay the inevitable? The worst-kept secret in the world is, due to the fear of concussions (and potential liability) football is moving away from allowing blows to the head area and helmet-to-helmet contact. The new targeting rule is just another step in the process. So, create a tackling zone between the top of the knees and the shoulder pads. Thus, any tackle in which the defender grabs the neck, helmet, facemask, etc. will draw a flag. One of the justifications given for the targeting rule was the fear some coaches were teaching their players to be head-hunters. So, that's cut that picture entirely. The NCAA could still eject players if they feel the helmet-to-helmet contact is intentional.

8. Allow two bye weeks every season: Every Division I team (FBS) in the country has the potential of two bye weeks during the 2013 season. I like that, and so should the NCAA. In my opinion, a season with 13 Saturdays and one bye week is far less preferable to one with 14 Saturdays and two bye weeks. So, even it means starting the season earlier in August, the NCAA should put its money where its mouth is and allow each school two bye weeks as a matter of promoting player safety and allowing adequate rest during the season. In my opinion, it is. And we get one additional weekend of football, so fans should be happy too.

9. Eliminate blocking below the waist: The blocking below the waist rule was modified before this season by creating a "zone of legality" in which blocking below the wait may occur. The zone extends seven yards on either side of the snapper toward each sideline and goes five yards into the defensive secondary and - in the other direction - all the way to the offensive team's end line. Within this zone, an offensive back who is stationary inside the tackle box and an offensive lineman inside the seven-yard zone may legally block below the waist until the ball has left the zone.

In the words of the NCAA, "The new rule focuses on the block itself and will allow these blocks by stationary players in typical line play." Forget all that legalese and mumbo jumbo. Make blocking below the wait entirely illegal no matter where it occurs on the field. No exceptions. Will this hurt teams that run the triple option like Wofford? Yes. But player safety trumps everything else, as we saw when the UNC lineman intentionally fell into the lower leg of Jadeveon Clowney, nearly causing a serious injury.

10. Alter the overtime format: In my opinion, the overtime rule in college is a joke. The NFL's current overtime format is far more fairer to the two teams involved than giving each team the ball at the 25-yard line. The solution: adopt the NFL rule (game over if first team with the ball scores a TD; if not, other team gets the ball) or put the ball at the 40-yard line, so offenses are forced to gain about 10 yards before moving into field goal range. Kickers in college today are too good and can easily boom field goals through the uprights with plenty of room to spare from 45 yards out or longer. So, putting the ball at the 25-yard line is meaningless because the offense is already in field goal range when the possession starts.

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