Saturday, April 21, 2018
Colleges

College football slowdown proposal prompts controversy

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

Just when did Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach 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 amassed 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 the 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.

"It makes no sense," new USF offensive coordinator (and former Washington State coach) Paul Wulff said.

By now, you're likely aware of the proposal, which is scheduled to be heard by the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel on Thursday. It prohibits 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.

Saban and Bielema, both of who run traditional offenses, are the proposal's most prominent advocates. Saban even addressed the NCAA Football Rules Committee — which approved it — on its behalf. (Though Friday, Saban said, "I had nothing to do with the idea" and had no opinion on it.) Bielema participated in the discussion as chairman of the American Football Coaches Association rules committee.

Neither had a vote. As for the opponents, well, New Coke didn't have this many naysayers.

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

"I'm definitely against it," former Plant High and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. "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 chances for you to make bigger plays down the field."

As division opponents of Auburn, Saban's and Bielema's advocacy appears self-serving. Slow the offense, and your defense can 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. That includes Troy Calhoun.

The rules committee chairman and Air Force coach, Calhoun was a Broncos assistant in 2005 when 49ers 310-pound guard Thomas Herrion collapsed and died moments after a Broncos-49ers preseason game. A form of heart disease was determined as the cause of death.

"Bottom line," Calhoun told cbssports.com, "if there is something that stands through that is medically legitimate, there is a concern. If there is nothing overwhelmingly conclusive, that's a different deal."

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

"There's zero proof that has anything to do with it," Wulff said.

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

Might be moot 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 4-6 plays in a game where a team is snapping the ball before 30 seconds," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "So we're not talking about a whole lot of plays being affected anyway. My biggest concern is the administration of the game by the officials. It is very difficult when the ball is snapped quickly.

"Is the chain gang lined up? Are the officials ready? Are they in position to make the right call? That is not good for the game if the officials can't administer the game correctly."

Ultimately, Muschamp says, he'll be fine with whatever is decided. Same with USF coach Willie Taggart who, coincidentally, is employing a more brisk tempo this spring.

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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