Pace of Play
The Flattening of CFB Pace
When I was looking at the team numbers for the bowl season, I noted a very interesting stat. The Oregon Ducks, at 2.98 plays per minute, played at their slowest overall game tempo in the last 5 years in 2014. Over the last four years, the pace of play for the Ducks declined as the scoring efficiency was rising. They were getting better by changing the tempo and slowing down.
While the rest of the FBS teams, on average, did not play at a slower pace in 2014 versus 2013, you can see (upper right chart) that the pace began to change six years ago. In 2009, the overall pace of the game saw a a big uptrend. Even with the upswing in tempo, the scoring efficiency has largely remained the same. The overall average points per play (red line) has been between .384 and .404 points per play in every season since 2008. There were more plays being run per game and so we are seeing more points per game. The peak efficiency of this up-tempo trend was in 2012, as points per play hit an all-time high and pace was at its third highest level.
Pace has increased every year since 2008, but that trend, beyond just the Ducks, is showing signs of slowing down. The year over year difference in average pace of play from 2013 to 2014, at .07%, was the smallest growth rate of plays per minute in the last six seasons. While new teams will pick up the pace, and others will adjust to a more efficient leve. I feel we are very close to reach a maximum average pace of play in FBS football. Peak Pace.
To try and find some more evidence of peak pace, I broke down the last seven years
of FBS football into drives started by quarter. I thought is was fascinating to see that
the fastest paced quarter is the 2nd and the slowest, on average, is the third. It
appears that teams go through a first quarter, ‘feeling out’ period and a third
quarter ‘halftime adjustments’ lull.
Most importantly, for the first time in seven years,
there was a slow down in pace when comparing quarters. The drives started in the
third quarter in 2014, averaged a pace of play, 2.32 plays per minute, that was less
than the third quarter drives of 2013 at 2.33. It’s not much of a change, but when you
consider FBS teams ran 109,244 plays last year, even slight changes in tempo can
have a big impact on the big picture.
While I do not feel that FBS football is going to start slowing down, 2015 may further
show that the idea of peak pace and the stabilization of tempo in college football
is a real trend. This would be a first step toward the idea, and hope, that teams are
trying to play smart, and look to become more efficient, not just playing fast.