Bert Bielema has taken his fair share of criticism in recent weeks, especially when he used Cal's recently deceased Ted Agu as a prop to defend his role in a proposal to add a 10-second "defensive substitution" period to each play.
Nick Saban, however, was also reportedly involved in securing the proposal from the NCAA Rules Committee. It's not expected to pass, but Nick Saban still thinks it's a good idea. He spoke publicly for the first time today in Columbus, Georgia, while talking to the Georgia Minority Coaches Association:
Q: What are your thoughts on the 10-second rule proposal?
Saban: "I really don't necessarily have an opinion on the 10-second rule. I think there are three issues that need to be researched relative to pace of play, the first being player safety. When you look at plays that are run, and a team averages 88 plays, and we average 65 at Alabama, that's 20-something plays more a game over a 12-game season, that adds up to four more games a year that guys have to play. I think it's wear and tear and tougher to prepare players when you have to play against a hurry-up offense because of the way you have to practice.
I don't know that there's any particular scientific evidence that you could say, more guys get hurt in this offense versus that one, or hurry-up, or whatever, but everything that we've ever done in the NCAA is about exposure. How many exposures does a player get? We've always tried to limit spring practice, we limit fall camp, we limit the number of days you can hit now. We have acclimation days: so many days in shorts, so many days in shoulder pads. The NFL even limited their practice even more, but really found that they got more guys hurt in the games. The ratio of guys that get hurt in the game is 7 to 1 that guys get hurt in practice. So we're limiting practice, and playing more plays in the game. College football is the only game in the country, of any kind, that the college game is longer than the pro game. And the disparity in plays run is like 59 to 72 in the NFL - 59 for the lowest-average team, 72 for the highest. You know, in college, it's more like 61 and 90. Alright, so there's a large disparity. But that's just something that people need to look at.
The second thing is, can officials officiate the game? They're not in position when the ball is snapped, just like defensive players aren't in position when the ball is snapped, so that's a game administration issue that people should probably look into.
And the third thing, to me, and the last thing, which is not the most important, I think the first is most important, is there any competitive imbalance created by the pace of play.
So I think those are all issues that people need to look at. In the NFL, what they did is the officials stand over the ball until the officials are ready to call the game. Alright, that's how they control the pace of play. The coach at Philadelphia ran 83 plays a game at Oregon, and ran 65 a game in Philadelphia. So why do they control the pace of play in the NFL? I mean, I'm just asking.
But anyway, there's just a lot of issues that need to be looked at, but I think the bottom line is, was football intended to be a continuous game?
Soccer is a continuous game, rugby is a continuous game, but for the physical elements that are involved in playing a football game and the number of plays that you play, I don't know that it was ever intended to be a continuous game."
Q: Bret Bielema last week mentioned player safety being No. 1 for him, and even brought up the Cal player who passed away in February during a conditioning drill. His proof is death certificates, that these hurry-up offenses could lead to some player safety issues and the last thing he wants to see is a player, one, get injured and maybe even worse in the future. What are your thoughts on that?
Saban: "I think player safety is the No. 1 thing, and that was my No. 1 issue as well. I think when players get tired they're more susceptible to get injured if you can't substitute players when they're tired or if they're injured and you can't get them out of the game. Or if a player has a pre-existing condition, whether it's sickle cell, asthma or whatever it is and the trainer says that guy needs to come out. The only way to get them out of the game is to call timeout, so the other way, we could, you know alleviate -- there's a lot of solution to the problem. I don't think coaches should be making this decision. I don't think I should make it, I don't think any coaches should make it. I think somebody outside all of us should decide what is in the best interest of the game, whether it's player safety, game administration, whatever it might be. That's sort of the concern that, I think, we all have."
Q: Gus Malzahn mentioned he doesn't necessarily want to nix this right away, but he would like there to be a year to where everybody can kind of discuss and maybe do some research to gather data about it. Are you OK with that?
Saban: "I think one thing people don't understand is they don't have all the facts about this. The reason -- I had nothing to do with the idea of the 10-second rule, but the committee decided the 10-second rule because they took 12 games of three fastball teams: Oregon, Auburn, Texas A&M and I forget the fourth one, it might have been Baylor, I'm not sure. And they said, OK, how many times did they snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock? It averaged four times a game, so you're really not changing -- I don't think anybody was trying to change what they do or how they do it, but the fact that they can get on the line and snap it quick, you can't substitute. All right. So, that becomes an eventual player safety issue and I think if you ask the guys philosophically, a lot of them that run the offense, they say we want to wear the defense down and get the defense tired. Well, you get the defensive players tired they are going to be more susceptible to getting injured.
Even though there is no scientific data to prove this, there was a study at Virgina Tech in 2003. All right, they did sub-concussive head traumas on eight players for 10 games. Those players played 61 plays a game and had 18 sub-concussive hits in a game, so they played 61 plays a game for 10 games. So, I'm saying if you're playing nose guard, three-technique, defensive end, offensive tackle, offensive guard, if you played 88 plays in a game, there's no scientific evidence but there is some logic that says the guy would have more hits. So, that's a player safety issue that I think people need to sorta look at.
Look, I'm all for what's best for the game. The game is what it is, I don't think any coach should determine, just like when they went to Philadelphia in the NFL and they were going so fast, the officials said, 'We control the pace of the game.' The league said, 'The officials control the pace of the game, not a coach.' So, I'm just saying what's best for the game. That's what Nick Saban is for."
Q: The officials controlling the pace of the game, is that something you'd like to see instituted in the college level?
Saban: "They spent a lot of money in the NFL figuring out what's best for the game and what's best for the players and they have a lot invested in it and I think sometimes we don't need to do all the things that they do but I think in some situations the officials controlling the pace of the game in that league has, I think, benefited the players and I would like to see the officials be able to control the pace of the game. I think the officials control the pace of the game in all games, but they don't in college football."