It used to be an anomaly when a National Football League game ran more than three hours. Now it has become the norm.
According to the NFL, so far this season the average run time of a typical game is 3:11:56. That's about six minutes longer than what games averaged in 2011. Monday's game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos ran an astounding 3:40 and there was nothing exceptional about it to explain why it took so long to complete. On CBS, games are running about eight minutes longer than last season. Fox and NBC's games are also for the most part longer.
While lots of fingers are being pointed at the replacement referees being used by the NFL until the league reaches a new deal with the regular officials, there are other reasons that are making the games move slower.
For starters, the NFL now reviews each touchdown and turnover automatically, which eats up time. The last few years has also seen an increase in penalties, particularly for late hits or overly aggressive tackles. This is part of the NFL's efforts to clamp down on excessive hits in response to concerns about the long-term effects to players from getting banged around on the football field for 60 minutes.
And then there are those officials. Not only is there more arguing between coaches and referees over what is and isn't being called, there has also been a rise in the number of skirmishes between players after plays. That is being attributed to the inability of the replacement referees to establish a commanding presence of law and order on the field.
Another change that will make games longer are the NFL's new overtime rules. Now each team will get at least one possession in overtime. Previously, if the team that first got the ball scored, the game was over.
Since NFL ratings are still strong, there is little grumbling from the networks. But that could change if fans start to tire of questionable officiating, interminable games and too many commercial breaks to count.
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