Rule changesheat up action

August 21, 2007 8:27 AM
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With the college football season right around the corner, handicappers and sports bettors are looking for situations they can exploit when the games hit the board in just a couple of weeks.

One area of strong interest involves the rule changes announced by the NCAA last April. Those changes could significantly increase the number of snaps from scrimmage in a game, as well as the number of kick-offs that are run back.

Two of the changes are actually a return to 2005 rules. First, the clock will start on the snap after a change of possession, as opposed to last year’s rule, which started the clock when the referee signaled the ball ready for play.

And secondly, the clock will start on kick-offs when the receiving team touches the ball, as opposed to when the kicker boots it.

Last year’s changes were designed to speed up the game, which they did. But, in the process, they also resulted in 14 fewer plays per game, on average.

In addition, some coaches complained that the rules made it hard for teams who were trailing to catch up in the waning moments.

Those 14 plays per game may not sound like much, but astute bettors last season recognized that the rule changes would cut down on the number of plays — and consequently the amount of scoring.

Thus, for the first few weeks of the season, they were able to bet college totals "under" the posted number, at least until the bookmakers figured out what was happening and adjusted.

Whether there occurs a reversal of that trend this season — more plays and consequently more scoring — remains to be seen. But a third rule change could tip the scales toward higher scores.

Beginning this year, kick-offs will be from the 30-yard line, like in the NFL, rather than the 35-yard line. While the extra yardage certainly isn’t dramatic, most agree that it will result in fewer touchbacks and more kick-off returns — arguably one of the most exciting plays in football.

Handicappers vary in their estimates as to how much the game’s scoring will be affected by the rule changes.

Using a model in which there are, say, 12 kick-offs a game, and you added 5 yards to each drive, then you could factor in an additional 60 yards of offense per game.

Depending on which math formula you use, that yardage could translate into anywhere between 3 points and 6 points per game.

Of course, the astute handicapper evaluates all factors. But keep this in mind, as well. Any change that puts more emphasis on kick-offs (or any special team’s play) tends to favor the superior squad, mostly because they have the better athletes to start with.

Thus, we might expect the changes could also exaggerate the differences between two unevenly matched teams.

The first few weeks of the season is always the best time to exploit those differences between teams. And there is a whole slate to choose from on September 1. That’s when the fun really begins.