Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - College football has seen an influx of hurry-up offenses incorporated in recent seasons, but if the NCAA has its way, the pace of the game could be coming to a halt.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee announced last week a proposed rule change that would allow defensive substitutions within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, meaning the offense would not be allowed to snap the ball until 29-second mark of the play clock. The exception to this rule would come in the final two minutes of each half. Under the proposed rule, a five- yard delay of game penalty would be assessed to the offense if it fails to comply.
The rule will be brought to hearing at the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on March 6. Although 2014 is not a designated year to allow a rule change, it could still be implemented for the upcoming season if it is deemed the rule will improve player safety.
"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, chairman of the rules committee. "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."
One of the coaches concerned the up-tempo, no-huddle offenses are more likely to cause injuries to defensive players is Alabama's Nick Saban, who in 2012 expressed his concerns with no-huddle offenses and its physical effects on the opposing defense.
"I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety," Saban said during an SEC teleconference. "(Teams) go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they're snapping the ball as fast as you go, and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up. That's when guys have a greater chance of getting hurt. It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense... (and) more and more people are going to do it. I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking: is this what we want football to be?"
Others have been outwardly critical of the recent FBS trends swaying toward the offensive side of the ball, including Arkansas' Brett Bielema. It should be noted both Saban and Bielema run more traditional, old school offenses. Berry also runs a methodical attack at Air Force, which ranked 104th in the FBS in plays per game last season.
It today's football landscape, however, Saban, Bielema and Calhoun are clearly in the minority, and the response from more offensive-minded coaches has not been kind.
"It's ridiculous," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "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."
Joining Rodriguez in outwardly discussing their displeasure of the proposed change include Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Washington State's Mike Leach, all of whose success has, not coincidentally, come largely on the back of an up-tempo offense.
On such a clearly divided issue, which side of the argument holds more merit?
Players are bigger, stronger and faster today than ever before, and that combined with the fact more scientific data is released each year regarding the high risk football players have at developing long-term neurological health issues leads the NCAA to put player safety at a premium. The NCAA has made positive strides in this matter recently by more strictly enforcing personal foul penalties for players targeting the helmet.
Would allowing defenses an opportunity for substitutions drastically change the way the game is played? It would be hard to tell prior to an implementation of the proposed rule. After all, the NCAA isn't banning the no-huddle offense, which can still be used, if implemented correctly, as a way to confuse and trick the opposing defense even without being in a particular hurry.
Take, for example, Baylor, the nation's top-scoring team last season, which oftentimes hurries to the line but rarely even gets a play off in the first 10 seconds of the play clock. Allowing the opportunity for a defense to keep its players' legs fresh could prevent sloppy execution and, in turn, the potential for injuries.
This proposed rule change, however, appears to be more wishful thinking than anything else, as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin suggests.
"There is no evidence out there to suggest that this is a player safety issue," Sumlin said. "Everything is done within the rules of the game, and coaching and creativity matter, and to be able to limit the amount of creativity that goes into the game, I think that's bad for the sport."
Football, by its very nature, is a horrifically violent game, the effects of which are starting to rear its ugly head. The NCAA is trying a lot to lower some of the risk with its recent rule changes, but there's only so much that can be done.
Rodriguez may have been using hyperbole during his statements, but his exaggerated point should still be seriously considered: at some point, the rule changes will begin to pile up so much that we'll be left with a game that's simply a shell of its former self.