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Phillip Marshall: Debate over new rule gets stranger

Feb. 19, 2014

As the controversy rages on about the proposed rule that would force offenses to let 10 seconds run off the play clock before snapping the ball, it gets stranger and stranger.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, the rules committee chairman, defended the proposal early and now says there should be no change without hard evidence that playing fast causes more injuries.

Alabama coach Nick Saban showed up to meet with the committee, ostensibly having been invited. Turns out, according to Calhoun, he invited himself.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who would probably be better off spending his time trying to figure out how to win an SEC game, supposedly represents the American Football Coaches Association, but coaches had no clue what was going on.

Why would Saban and Bielema try to pull this off?

I believe I know the answer.

As long as it was Rice, Troy, Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, some directional schools and the like running hurryup, no-huddle offenses, nobody really cared. In fact most people viewed those offenses as exciting and good for college football. It helped teams compete against more talented teams, but they weren’t threatening anybody on a national level.

But then a funny thing happened. Programs with the ability to recruit big-time players started running those offenses. Auburn or Texas A&M or Oregon or Oklahoma running an up-tempo offense with future NFL players is a far cry from Rice running it with none.

Auburn, running Gus Malzahn’s scheme, has won one national championship and played for another. Oregon played for one. Texas A&M beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season. Bielema moved from Wisconsin to Arkansas and found dealing with great athletes playing at hyper speed wasn’t any fun for his defense.

Saban first broached the subject in 2012 after a 30-14 win over Ole Miss. He wondered out loud whether football should be a continuous action sport or played in the traditional way. He made no attempt to hide that he didn’t like those offenses because of what they did to his defense. Not a word did he say about injuries.

Last summer, Bielema proclaimed at media days that those offenses were dangerous and caused injuries. There was no evidence, but he didn’t care. Seizing the opportunity, Saban decided that something had to be done to prevent all those injuries that weren’t happening.

After all, how could anybody vote against player safety?

So it was that the rules committee heard last week from Saban and Bielema but from no one on the other side. And the controversy began. It’s not going to end until the NCAA oversight committee votes on March 6. And if the rule is implemented, the controversy will be just beginning.

"This came out of left field," Cincinnati and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It's wrong."

The criticism of the process has been stinging. Coaches have said flat out that the talk of player safety is disingenuous at best and downright dishonest at worst.

On Tuesday, Malzahn finally spoke out. He spoke carefully, pointing out that this is an off year for rules changes. That means changes can only be made in the interest of player safety. Malzahn said there is no evidence that hurryup offenses cause more injuries.

There is no way to know what the NCAA oversight committee will do, but it’s very clear what it ought to do. It ought to throw this whole thing out.

The bottom line: It’s a made-up solution to a made-up problem.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:





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