Thursday, November 23, 2017

NCAA plan: Jackrabbits vs. safety

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The college football rules proposal raging through the Twitter-verse, one far more dissed than deliberated, begs a rhetorical question:

Just when did Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema determine high-octane offenses needed to ease up on the throttle for the sake of defensive player safety?

Could Saban's epiphany have occurred while Auburn's no-huddle, no-blink attack was amassing 296 rushing yards on the Crimson Tide in November? Could the bulb suddenly have illuminated for Bielema as Texas A&M collected 523 yards on 74 plays against his Razorbacks in September?

Legions of coaches and commentators have suggested exactly that. When you're trying to call an audible on a basic tenet of the game, expect a little sarcasm. And a lot of pushback.

By now, you're likely aware of the proposal, which could be heard by the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel on Thursday. If enacted, it would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds elapse from the 40-second play clock.

The rule would not be in effect for the last two minutes of each half, or if the play clock began at 25 seconds. If the ball is snapped while 30 or more seconds remain on the clock, the offense will be whistled for — how's this for paradoxical poetry? — delay of game.

Steve Spurrier has dubbed it the "Saban rule" with his trademark jeer. A recent ESPN poll of 128 Division I coaches found that only 25 (19.5 percent) favor it.

"I'm definitely against it," said former Plant High and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. "I'm a little bit biased because I am an offensive player, but it's part of the game now. At the end of the day, the goal is to run as many plays as you can. You won't always be successful at them but the more plays you run, the more snaps everyone gets as a team, the more chance for you to make bigger plays down the field."

As divisional opponents of Auburn, Saban and Bielema's advocacy appears self-serving. Slow the offensive pace, and your defense has a chance to substitute and adjust. Thing is, they've hitched their support to the s-word, at least momentarily altering the conversation's tone. If safety is a smokescreen for an ulterior agenda, it's a shrewd one. In the current climate, no one's going to scoff at player welfare.

Essentially most skeptics are just requesting proof connecting a faster-paced game to increased injuries or an adverse effect on player health. So far, none exists.

"It's a safety issue throughout the whole game, so you can't really say just by them going super ridiculously fast that somebody's going to get hurt," said former FSU (and Alonso High) defensive tackle Demonte McAllister, who had a tackle against Auburn in the BCS national title game. "You can go the regular speed of the game and somebody can get hurt, too."

Might be a moot point anyway. In the national title game, Auburn ran two plays with 30 or more seconds remaining on the clock.

"In research that I did a few years ago, there are only four to six plays in a game where a team is snapping the ball before 30 seconds," said Florida coach Will Muschamp. "So we're not talking about a whole lot of plays being affected anyways. My biggest concern is the administration of the game by the officials. It is very difficult when the ball is snapped quickly."

The most plausible scenario: The proposal is tabled for a year so more data can be collected. If it does pass, coaches will do what they've done since chalkboards doubled as scoreboards: adapt and adjust.

"Everything's evolving," Murray said. "You're not used to 35-31, 42-35 games in the SEC. It used to be 17-14, 17-10 and stuff like that. "But I'm sure the defenses and these defensive masterminds like Nick Saban and everyone else are going to figure out ways to counteract the speed of the game and figure out ways to slow it down, or find ways to get their defenses set up faster to get ready to go."

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