College football has never been more popular. TV contracts have skyrocketed and ratings are as high as they’ve ever been. Only the NFL eclipses college football’s 24-hour, 365-day a year news cycle. And now, the NCAA may institute a rule change that could dramatically change a part of the game that’s contributed to the sport’s growing popularity.
A four-team playoff might not be the only major development surrounding the 2014 season. If passed, it could be a five-yard penalty – delay of game, ironically – if an offense snaps the ball before at least 10 seconds have wound off the 40-second play clock. An exception will be made in the final two minutes of each half, allowing teams to run two-minute offenses that hike the ball as quickly as possible.
As the talk of the sports world centers on a US-Russian Cold War rivalry, at home, coach vs. coach relations are simmering.
“My suggestion is rather than spending a bunch of time coming up with a bunch of really stupid rules, spend that time coaching harder,” Washington State head coach Mike Leach said. “Worry about your own team and try to make your product better rather than trying to change the game so you don’t have to do anything.”
The loudest voices behind the change are Nick Saban and Bret Bielema. If Ohio State fans needed more ammo to dislike the Mouths of the South, they’ve found them. Incensing not just Buckeye Nation, is that the proposed changes are being done so under the guise of player safety.
Saban, Bielema and others say that substitutions in the first 10 seconds of the play clock would cut down on injuries. Good luck finding many colleagues who will agree. There’s never been a study on the matter and no data exists. Rich Rodriguez, Mike Gundy, Mark Helfrich and Leach have led the chorus of criticism.
“It’s a joke. It’s ridiculous. And what’s most ridiculous,” Rodriguez said, “is did you see what the penalty is going to be called? Delay of game! How is that a delay of game? That’s the ultimate rules committee decision. Make the game slower and call it delay of game.”
Rogers Redding, national coordinator of officials, said it’s “common sense” that injuries would be minimized with a new set of rules.
“If the food tastes good, don’t change the recipe. We’ve got a good game. Let’s let the fans enjoy it. I just don’t see the sense behind it.”– Art Briles
Coaching philosophies have always differed, but this is the first major outcry in decades. It harkens back to the turn of the century – that’s the 20th century – when Knute Rockne discovered the forward pass on the beaches of Cedar Point. It’s no coincidence that Saban and Bielema are architects of two slow-moving, pro-style offenses. Alabama’s nemesis in recent seasons has been up-tempo teams, with losses to Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma.
Fast-paced, no-huddle offenses have never been more prevalent. They’re even popping up throughout the NFL. It’s become common for colleges to run 80 plays. Texas Tech led the nation last season with an eye-popping 90 plays per game. Points and total yards have also spiked. It’s not a secret – the quickest route (no pun intended) to a national championship, conference title and Heisman Trophy is through a hurry-up offense.
It’s an advantage not dissimilar from having an effective blitzing scheme that rattles offensive lines and quarterbacks. Defenses are permitted to move players prior to the snap while offenses cannot. Speeding up the pace of play flips the script.
“All this tinkering is ridiculous,” Leach said. “I think it deteriorates the game. It’s always been a game of creativity and strategy. So anytime someone doesn’t want to go back to the drawing board or re-work their solutions to problems, then what they do is to beg for a rule. I think it’s disgusting.”
Where most of the outcry resides is the secrecy of the process. Saban and Bielema, chairman of the American Football Coaches Association, suggested the changes and gave speeches on the matter to the rules committee. When news spread, the coaches who never heard of the proposal were understandably incensed.
When Gus Malzahn phoned SEC rival and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze about the news, Freeze was dumbfounded.
“I said, ‘Y’all are kidding me. That’s not true,’” he said. At January’s AFCA convention, the suggested alteration was never discussed.
The proposal will meet its fate on March 6 when the playing rules oversight panel votes. It approves new rules more frequently than it denies proposals.
“If the food tastes good, don’t change the recipe,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “We’ve got a good game. Let’s let the fans enjoy it. I just don’t see the sense behind it.”