Saturday, August 23, 2008

Part One: The Rules of the Game (Just enough to get by...)

You only need to be familiar with a few basics to enjoy a college football game. The best way to understand the nuances of the game is to sit back and watch a few games. But watching a football game without understanding anything that's going on can be really frustrating. Here are a few basics. And I do mean basics. I think it's fairly obvious that these explanations are not at all exhaustive, and they're not all that technical, either. They're really intended for brand new fans of the game. For more thorough (and technical) explanations of how a college football game is played, be sure to check out the Internet resources that I've listed below.

1. Q: Okay, I'm ready to watch a game. How long is this gonna take?
A: The game itself is comprised of four 15 minute quarters. After two quarters, the players take a break (halftime); the remaining two quarters are played after halftime. Don't be fooled by the game clock, though. Including time outs, commercial breaks, and deliberations among officials following a play, watching a game will easily take between 2 1/2 and 3 hours. (Don't worry. They will be some of the best 2 1/2 to 3 hours of your life!)

2. Q: What's the object of this game?
A: It's quite simple. For each team, the object of the game is to get the football in the opposing team's end zone. The end zones are set 100 yards apart, at opposite ends of the football field. Through a series of running and passing plays, the team on offense moves the ball toward the opposing team's end zone. Under normal circumstances, the team on offense will get four chances (called downs) to score a touchdown by getting the ball to the end zone.

3. Q: What's up with the score?
A: A touchdown is worth 6 points. After a team scores a touchdown, it is given an opportunity to earn bonus points! Kicking the ball in between the goal posts after a touchdown is worth 1 point, while running the ball into the end zone is worth 2 points. If a team gets to its 4th down and realizes that its chances of scoring a touchdown on 4th down are slim to none, then it can send out a kicker to attempt to kick the ball in between the goal posts for 3 points.

4. Q: Why are the officials throwing things at the players?
A: Throughout the game, the officials are keeping their eyes peeled for players who break the rules. When an official spots a rule violation, he throws a flag onto the field, and the game is stopped while the officials announce the violation and the penalty. Common violations include delay of game, pass interference, and holding.

That should be enough to prevent brand new fans from getting dizzy while watching their first game. But there's much, much more to college football. Check out these great resources:

Introduction to American College Football Rules
New Rules for the 2008 College Season
Wikipedia's Overview of College Football

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