College football is great, but it chooses to remain stupid in many ways

Every now and then, a columnist gets to write a raging rant of a column, an angry and passionate denouncement of something that’s absurd in the extreme… and it makes perfect sense to do so.

This is not a normal situation, mind you.

Angry-rant columns can only be used on selective occasions to begin with. Use them too often, and readers will quickly tire of the shouting they see on the computer screen. Use the angry-rant column unwisely, and readers will simply tune you out on the spot.

Once in a while, though, if a writer or commentator is in the right — without any question whatsoever — and the cause being fought for is legitimate, the angry-rant column is merited.

One week into the college football season, it’s time for a Howard Beale moment on these pages.


Anyone who has read me over the course of 15 years — most of them at this site; this is my second here at TSS — knows that I have a lot of problems with the college football rulebook and (worse) the unwillingness of those in charge of it to implement a whole host of necessary changes. I rail on and on about these deficiencies on Twitter, and have translated them into a number of columns, with a few being unfurled each year, banging the same drums but with slightly different case studies or reference points.

Why bother, you might ask?

First of all, this is a billion-dollar business. A lot is invested into this sport — not just financially, but materially, emotionally, holistically. It matters to people. Ergo, it should be conducted fairly.

No, this is not life and death. It’s not a matter of war and peace. Some people pounce on me when I get into my riled-up emotional state: “IT’S JUST A GAME, MATT! GEEZ! LIGHTEN UP!”

I know this is only a game, but as Graham Spurrier said to his well-known son, “If it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, why do you keep score?” Within this comparatively less important endeavor, it is still important to promote fairness and common sense. NO, I don’t expect everything in life to possess common sense. (I hope for it, but I don’t expect it — there’s a difference.) However, wouldn’t you say that if you knew a particular subject well enough to argue for some kind of improvement — even if that subject was not as serious as peace talks in the Middle East or hashing out tax reform in Washington, D.C., or implementing solutions to child poverty — you would do it if you felt you could make a difference?

I know I would.

So, you know when I’ll lighten up in terms of hammering points to death on the college football rulebook and nuances of clock management and various replay policies? When things get changed, that’s when.

For now, I can say with complete authority that my years of banging the same drums continue to have merit. They continue to be necessary. Moreover, they paid off on Saturday afternoon during the denouement of the Louisville-Auburn game.


I run the Student Section’s Twitter account and share it with my associate editors. Most of the time, though, I’m the one live-tweeting on college football Saturdays and college basketball game nights (and most times in between).

When Bobby Petrino called a timeout AFTER A HOLDING PENALTY ON AUBURN in the final minute of Cards-Tigers, most of #CollegeFootballTwitter immediately thought Petrino had screwed up. (After all, he’s been known to make pretty severe mistakes and miscalculations in his life. Football, though, is something he actually knows really well.) Yet, years upon years of watching college football — from late 1981 through 2000 as a fan; from 2001 to the present moment as a writer — have made me very cognizant of clock-run/clock-stop principles in the final minutes of games. Year after year, I’ve been able to fine-tune my understanding of clock rules and grasp what’s happening in an endgame situation. I still don’t know every rule by heart, but compared to 15 years ago, I sure know a lot more now.

“You can observe a lot by watching,” Yogi Berra said, and that watching paid off on Saturday. When most people (people who didn’t listen to me or read my columns over the years, darnit!) thought Petrino was in the wrong, I immediately grasped that he was calling the timeout because he had to. The clock was going to restart after that Auburn holding penalty… because that was the rule.

The live time-stamp is evidence that I did not second-guess my interpretation but put it out there first:

For the next 20-odd minutes after the timeout controversy exploded, chaos reigned — mostly because people couldn’t believe (rightly) that college football’s rules could be that awful, partly because other bloggers weren’t aware of these rules. Yet, when the smoke cleared and the relevant parties were interviewed about the timeout, it was revealed that — yes — the rulebook provided for a clock restart. Petrino is not dumb enough to call a timeout just for kicks in that situation. He had to have known a restart was imminent. It was.

To be a little more specific on this topic and — in particular — to unearth some of the history behind this rule, you don’t have to travel many years in the past. In the past two years, Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers have been victimized by this very clock restart rule… TWICE!

Last year, I wrote about this very subject and documented the instance which recurred on Saturday in Atlanta. My point of reference was Tennessee’s loss at Georgia, made more likely by this deficient rule. However, the Vols also got jobbed by the same basic rule under similar circumstances in a home-field loss to Florida.

You would think that the folks at Tennessee — having some clout and being part of a program with a very proud football tradition — would be able to throw their weight around and get this rule changed. Yet, nothing happened, much as nothing happens with this rule and these rules and these rules and all the other incredibly flawed rules which persist in this sport, for no really good reason.

(There are a lot of them, and I’ve been banging the drum for many years on most of them.)

Please, college football rulemakers. Please, fans of teams (such as Louisville on Saturday) who got jobbed by these rules. Take this stuff seriously. Stupid rules — unfair rules — should be legislated out of any realm of human activity. Insults to intelligence and common sense should not be allowed to continue. Billion-dollar industries should have their competitive outcomes determined in ways that enable both participants and (emotional if not financial) shareholders to sleep peacefully.

If you lose a game fair and square, people can live with it. If you lose because the rules force you to take a timeout after another team committed a horrible penalty in the final minute of a close game, no one will live with it.


I might give the impression of someone who revels in being right, but I don’t want to be right. I want to see these darn rules and policies get changed or eliminated, as needed in various situations.

Can we PLEASE do this for 2016, college football? I love you, but in times like these, I hate you with an abiding passion.

Stop doing things that make people get angry, college football. You don’t have to be this way.


About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |