Last Year’s Eastern Washington Game Was Ridiculously Long

CHENEY, Wash. — Let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of last year’s North Dakota State-Eastern Washington football game.

Relax, Bison fans. I’m not referring to the outcome. The Bison beat the Eagles 50-44 in overtime in a highly entertaining game

I’m talking about the length of the game. It was the longest for NDSU since the school began consistently recording the length of games.

It took NDSU and Eastern Washington 4 hours and 6 minutes to finish last year’s game, which included the following atrocities:

  • 49 first downs
  • 94 points
  • 1,093 total yards
  • 22 penalties
  • 9 official reviews

It wasn’t a football game, it was a sundial. It followed NDSU’s first game of the 2016 season against Charleston Southern, which lasted a crisp 3:39. That game went overtime, too. You can’t blame OT for the length of the Eastern Washington game — the overtime session was only three total plays.

And while those two games were an anomaly for the rest of the season, they weren’t completely off the rails in the college football world. The length of games has been climbing steadily for years and that includes NDSU.

“Ridiculous,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “We gotta do something.”

The gurus of college football agree. The NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee discussed the issue at length earlier this year and made some minor tweaks that should result in minor time savings. For example, there is no extra time allowed for halftimes and the second half kickoff happens almost immediately after the teams return to the field. No dilly-dallying. There were a couple of game administration changes, too.

But anything major will have to wait until the NCAA approves rules changes, if they decide to.

Momentum favors it. College football games averaged 3 hours, 24 minutes in 2016, the longest ever. That is 20 minutes longer than a decade ago. The average Big Ten game lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes last season.

It’s not just the big boys. The length of NDSU’s games has grown steadily longer since the move to Division I in 2003. Just since the Bison began their ride at the top of FCS, the length of games has grown.

In 2011, 11 of NDSU’s 15 games were under three hours. In fact, 10 of 11 regular season games were less than three hours. The Bison’s season opener against Lafayette was 2 hours, 31 minutes. Their first-round playoff game against James Madison was 2:52. They didn’t consistently take more than three hours until the FCS quarterfinals, semifinals and title game.

In 2016, 13 of NDSU’s 14 games lasted longer the three hours. The only game to clock in under that was its first playoff game against San Diego, which took 2 hours, 50 minutes. Bison games took an average of 3 hours, 13 minutes in 2016.

That figure was skewed by the two extra-long games to begin the season and it’s still much shorter than major-conference games, but it’s still trending the wrong direction.

There are reasons. Every NDSU game is televised, unlike years ago, which builds in time for commercial breaks. Teams are passing more now, which stops the clock on incompletions. There are replays. The clock no longer runs continuously on first downs. It is stopped until the ball is set and the officials signal for it to start again.

It all adds up.

Klieman would like to see a running clock on first downs. That might be one change, although it could be altered so that the clock stops in the final two or five minutes of each half. Other suggestions, according to an ESPN article, include shortening halftime, limiting the number of replays, reducing the number of timeouts, a shorter play clock, changing in-game substitution rules and limiting the number of commercial breaks.

It’s not even universally agreed that longer games are a problem. Some coaches and even some conferences have said the length of games is not a concern.

The shortest game NDSU has played since it began keeping time-of-game statistics is 2 hours, 20 minutes against Austin Peay in 2008.

It would be wonderful if Saturday’s game against Eastern Washington only took that long, but that’s unrealistic.

Is there any way we could guarantee it finishes in shorter than 4 hours, 6 minutes, though?