Tempo-pushing coaches skeptical of 'injury concerns' behind slow-down rule

Rich Rodriguez: 'It's ridiculous. What's next...only three downs? If you play that extra down you have more chance of injury'

Offensive coordinators Chad Morris, left, of Clemson, and Gus Malzahn, right, of Auburn, walk together on the field at Clemson's Memorial Stadium before their NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 in Clemson, SC.(AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

Offensive coordinators Chad Morris, left, of Clemson, and Gus Malzahn, right, of Auburn, walk together on the field at Clemson's Memorial Stadium before their NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 in Clemson, SC.(AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Not so fast, college football offenses.

A proposed change by the NCAA rules committee would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds had run off the 40-second play clock, slowing down the up-tempo, no-huddle attacks that have been making defenses dizzy.

The rule allows defenses time to make a substitution without the offense changing players — as is currently required — and with no fear the ball will be snapped before 29 seconds are left on the play clock. An exception will be made for the final two minutes of each half, when the offense can snap the ball as quickly as it wants.

"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, chair of the football rules committee, said in a statement Wednesday. "As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes."

The committee also proposed a change to the targeting rule that would eliminate the 15-yard penalty when instant replay officials overturn an ejection. Last year, when a targeting penalty was called, the 15-yard penalty stood even if the replay official determined the player should be allowed to stay in the game.

Both proposals need approval from the playing rules oversight panel, which is schedule to consider them on March 6.

The proposal to slow down offenses will have a hard time passing if the many coaches who run up-tempo these days have anything to say about it.

"It's ridiculous," said Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, who has been at the forefront of the fast football trend.

"For me it goes back to the fundamental rules of football. The offense knows where they are going and when they are going to snap the ball. That's their advantage. The defense is allowed to move all 11 guys before the ball is snapped. That's their advantage.

"What's next? You can only have three downs? If you play that extra down you have more chance of injury."

Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said he found about the proposal when he got a phone call from Auburn's Gus Malzahn, a fellow advocate of up-tempo offense.

"I said, 'Y'all are kidding me. That's not true,'" Freeze told Malzahn.

This is a non-rules change year for the NCAA, but exceptions can be made for rules that affect player safety.

There was much discussion about the pace of the game last season, with some coaches — most notably Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema — questioning whether something needed to be done to slow down offenses. Safety concerns were cited because of the increased number of plays. The fastest-moving teams — such as Arizona and Ole Miss — average more than 80 plays per game. Texas Tech led the country with 90.3 plays per game last season.

Arkansas ran 64.7 plays per game, 121 out of 125 FBS teams. Alabama was at 65.9, 116th in the country.

Freeze said he was skeptical of the health risks presented by up-tempo offense because he's never seen any data to support the claim.

"I would think they would have some type of study that proves that," he said.

Rodriguez has been pushing the pace with his teams for more than two decades and doesn't buy safety concerns.

"If that was the case wouldn't every team that went fast in practice have more injuries?" he said.

The committee said "10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock."

Freeze and Rodriguez both said their offenses rarely get plays off within 10 seconds of the ball being spotted.

"If they say it's not occurring anyway, why put in a rule?" Freeze said. "I just don't really understand what we gain from this rule other than a chance to create more chaos."

It's not just the up-tempo coaches who voiced their disapproval with the proposal.

"I just spent two days at Big Ten meetings and it wasn't even brought up," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "It doesn't make sense to me." The Scarlet Knights ranked 84th in the country in plays per game (71).

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, a former defensive coordinator whose team averaged 78 plays per game (28th in the nation), said the proposal was never discussed during last month's American Football Coaches of Association convention.

"This came out of left field," he said. "It's wrong."

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Comments » 11

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

It is so hypocritical of the NCAA to refer to all football players as “student athletes”. Some are but most aren’t. All rule changes seem to be made to inhibit the offense and their reason is because it’s a safety concern. Oh, please! The NCAA is made up of college presidents and some of them think a football is round and a basketball is triangular in shape. Rich Rod was right in saying the defense can move all their players around all the time while the offense can’t move once in the set position except one man that may go in motion. Don’t change any rules and use safety as a reason because it’s an excuse not a reason. To try to slow down these high octane offenses will mess up the game. The defenses will catch up with them in a year or two from now. Recruit leaner, faster defensive players that don’t need oxygen after 3 plays like our friend from Columbia.

jbwhite writes:

So what are they going to come up with for safety? Are they going to say someone can't block someone if they weigh more than 50 lbs than the guy they block?

JSBCharleston writes:

Maybe to further prevent injuries, they should no longer allow the sec to land 7-10 recruiting classes with all the best athletes.

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

in response to jbwhite:

So what are they going to come up with for safety? Are they going to say someone can't block someone if they weigh more than 50 lbs than the guy they block?

I hope nobody from the NCAA rules committee reads your comment because it could put the idea in his or her empty head and they might try to make it a rule.

KIMOSAMI writes:

in response to JSBCharleston:

Maybe to further prevent injuries, they should no longer allow the sec to land 7-10 recruiting classes with all the best athletes.

That could be accomplished if ESPN quit advertising 24/7/365 for the SEC.

JSBCharleston writes:

in response to KIMOSAMI:

That could be accomplished if ESPN quit advertising 24/7/365 for the SEC.

I don't see that happening. I basically stopped watching esucsecpn because of their bias. I wonder how many time they mention that it was the acc that unseated the sec in the bcs. Oh I forgot-fsu is an sec team based on their speed and the size of their lines.

lbguignard#292428 writes:

It seems that up-tempo lets more players play the game and the game is more dependent upon the ability of the players. Some coaches like a slower game, which gives them more control over the game, in essence, theirs is more of a coaches game instead of a players game.

So far as injuries - I cry bs. Rugby, soccer, basketball, hockey, lacrosse and others play long and hard. So if playing leading to injuries was a legitimate concern then what of those sports? No, Saban's concern is how he has to coach against it. Obviously he doesn't like it so seeks solace with the government - excuse me for the politics - governing body.

lhaselden writes:

Remove cleats from the shoes and put a 300 lb weight limit on NCAA scholarships. Those 2 changes would limit more injuries than the proposed change.. and enforcing weights under 300 would enforce a healthier training regimen.

TigerNE writes:

My position since this idea first hit the press is the same as Freeze's statement. Show me the evidence! I doubt it exists. This one has an odor to it that the position some are taking is not HONESTLY about safety but more about controlling game play more to their liking.

lbguignard#292428 writes:

It seems more plays will allow more players to play and the game is for the players- isn't it?
Saban seems to be arguing about his loss of control over the game, because he wants the game to be for coaches, but I don't hear Spurrier on this subject. He runs his offense as slow as he wants to and the defense according to the other team.

To me, let the players play more, then the game is about their ability, not the coaches ability to guess what players should be in for any particular down.

meb4077 writes:

As much as I hate to say anything positve about him, Spurrier likely hasn't said anything because he's a smarter coach than Saban.

Spurrier had a point a year or two ago. It's a far bigger accomplishment to turn a lousy school like USC respectable, especially after the spittin' idiot got done with it, than it is to return Alabama to it's glory days.

I still can't stand the drunk, classless, arrogant idiot. But I can at least respect his coaching skills.

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