Brian Murphy: Slow down on college football’s ‘slowdown’ proposal

February 16, 2014 

College football appears in a hurry to slow the sport down.

Offenses would not be allowed to snap the ball until 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock had expired, under a rule change proposed by the NCAA football rules committee.

The committee couched its reasoning in “player safety” language, but it’s hard to read this as anything but “The Defense Strikes Back.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban (65.9 plays per game in 2013) and Arkansas coach Bret Beilema (64.7) — vocal critics of the hurry-up offense and practitioners of traditional offense — spoke to the committee, which included Air Force coach Troy Calhoun (67.7).

Absent were perspectives from coaches from Texas A&M (73.8), Oregon (76.6), Oklahoma State (77.0), Arizona (83.2), Baylor (85.2) or any of the dozens of teams that have used hurry-up, no-huddle offenses to climb into the Top 25 rankings, attract national attention and turn college football into a highly entertaining points bonanza.

Texas Tech led the FBS in plays per game in 2013 at 90.3. Boston College ranked last at 62.0.

“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” Calhoun said. “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.”

I just don’t buy it. And neither do many others in college football. This is old guard vs. new school — and give me new school, and the offensive creativity and variety that comes with it.

There is no data that hurry-up, no-huddle offenses lead to more injuries than traditional offenses, a point made over and over by up-tempo coaches who have blasted the proposed rule.

And what kind of injuries are we talking about? Are concussions more likely with the field spread out with five wide receivers or condensed with three tight ends and two running backs?

“Is there any hard data, or just somebody saying that? If there was big concern with that, wouldn’t the teams that practice fast be concerned with it? We don’t have any more injuries because we practice fast,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told USA Today.

Further, there is no rule against defensive substitution now. The 10 seconds are supposed to allow the defense to put new players on the field. But there’s nothing stopping them from doing it now — except their own slowness.

Boise State routinely ran four new defensive linemen on the field, even as offenses rushed to the line of scrimmage. The Broncos (81.0) faced three of the 10 fastest-paced teams in the country: No. 2 BYU (89.9), No. 4 Fresno State (85.4) and No. 9 Nevada (82.4).

If the NCAA and/or coaches are truly concerned with the sheer volume of plays (and not with finding a way to stop offenses), there are numerous paths to achieve that goal without altering the balance between offense and defense in such a dramatic way.

The easiest fix: Allow the clock to run on first downs or out-of-bounds plays. It might eliminate some late-game comebacks, but it surely would lessen the number of plays in a game.

Have we determined what number of plays in a college football game is considered “safe?” If we have, then we could turn football into baseball.

Turn off the clock. You get 150 plays in a game. That’s it. If one team uses 90, so be it.

The proposal still must be approved by the 11-member NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, a group that includes four conference commissioners, four athletic directors and three senior women’s administrators from the FBS to Division III. The group meets March 6, and if it approves the change, it will go into effect for the 2014 season.

Let’s hope they slow it down. Maybe allow some time for substitute ideas.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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