September 8, 2006 -- OK, here's the deal: You're the owner of a fabulously popular restaurant. For years, you packed 'em in. And why not? You provided a great product for which you were well rewarded.
Then complaints started pouring in from your steadiest customers: Service has become slow, slower, interminable.
You ignored the complaints, hoping the problem and/or the complaints would just go away. Didn't happen. Finally, moved to act, you had two choices:
1) Do everything possible to speed up service, from pep talks to spending a few bucks to hire extra help for the kitchen and wait staffs, thus improving the chances of sustaining the good and welfare of your establishment, your employees and yourself.
2) Reduce the size of all portions, thus eliminating a few minutes per meal per customer. After all, the less time they spend eating, especially the last course, the sooner they'll get the check, pay and leave.
The new rules designed to speed up college football games is a case of the NCAA choosing solution No. 2. The new rules call for the clock to run more often, thus, instead of reducing dead time, they reduce the time in which football actually is played.
That's typical of NCAA solutions in that they attack the symptoms. But attacking the problem (reducing dead time) might cost money, specifically TV money.
For starters, that televised Division I-A games regularly began to run 31/2 then nearly four hours became apparent about 10 years ago. Thus, it took years for the NCAA to act.
Beyond that, the NCAA's solution is similar to the NFL's: "Speed up" games by reducing the number of plays. The PGA, often confronted with issues of tardy play, could similarly act by reducing each round to 17 holes.
Of course, for 100 years there never has been any sentiment to reduce the number of plays in a college football game. Preseason estimates were that between 15-25 plays from scrimmage would be eliminated per game. After one week of play, those estimates generally have proven correct.
College games in the recent past featured in the neighborhood of 145 plays per game. This season, we're looking, minimally, at more than a 10-percent cut in action.
And less football is less football, no matter how you cut it.
But there certainly has been sentiment, over the past 25 years, to reduce the amount of TV commercial time. In response to that, commercial time has increased.
Not surprising was that last week's televised college games found commentators flatly praising the new "speed-up-the-game" rules. Of course they did; most of football's TV voices have been conditioned to think no deeper than the paper on which stats are printed.
Comically, a few of these conversations were inspired by the clock stopping to assess a delay-of-game call against a team that was in violation of the new, speed-up-the-game rules.
Reducing the amount of TV commercial time that has been tacked on, over the years, would guarantee shorter games without any reduction of playing time. Division I-AA, II and III games - played unattached to major commercial networks - still typically run 2:30-2:45. And they have for years and years.
Consider that Wagner won last week's I-AA game at La Salle, 38-15, in 2:40; 53 points in 2:40. In Division II, Minnesota-Duluth beat Bemidji State, 23-7, in 2:39. In Division III, Rowan beat Christopher Newport, 32-8, in 2:50.
On ABC, Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech, 14-10, in 3:30.
So is TV - TV money - the primary cause? Or is it that college football really needed to cut back on the number of plays per game? Were fans demanding less action?
Every big-time sports authority that has auctioned that authority to television invariably has allowed its sport to be chipped or chopped until the sport scarcely resembles what made it popular in the first place.
Oh, yeah, the NCAA really knows how to identify, attack and resolve problems. If it were in the deodorant business, it would sell nose plugs.
Good thing the NCAA is one of those businesses that doesn't have to worry about competition.