The buzz is everywhere about a rumored rule change aimed at slowing the pace of play in college football, but what's true and what's false? What does Nick Saban have to do with anything and how does it matter to WVU? We thought we'd take a quick minute and give you a nice primer on the subject.
OK so what's the deal with this proposed rule change and why do I keep hearing Nick Saban's name?
Bear with me, this goes back a ways.
"At some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety," Saban said. "The team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they're snapping the ball as fast as you can go and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up."
Then new Arkansas Razorback coach Bret Beilema for one welcomed his new overlord by saying this:
"Not to get on the coattails of some of the other coaches, there is a lot of truth that the way offensive philosophies are driven now, there's times where you can't get a defensive substitution in for 8, 10, 12 play drives," Bielema said. "That has an effect on safety of that student-athlete, especially the bigger defensive linemen, that is really real."
At which point WVU's Dana Holgorsen, a well-known practitioner of the HUNH (Hurry-Up No Huddle) said this at Big 12 media days:
"Yeah, I'd tell him to get over it because it's not going to change," Holgorsen said Tuesday. "It's going into the NFL, for crying out loud. There's people being hired in the NFL that have the background in college football to be able to create a little bit more parity."
"Don't see it changing any time soon," Holgorsen said. "So you'd better learn to adapt to it."
So that was last July. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when the NCAA announced this proposed rule change:
The committee also recommended a rules change that will allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half, starting with the 2014 season.
"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," said Calhoun. "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."
Under this rule proposal, the offense will not be allowed to snap the ball until the play clock reaches 29 seconds or less. If the offense snaps the ball before the play clock reaches 29 seconds, a 5-yard, delay-of-game penalty will be assessed. Under current rules, defensive players are not guaranteed an opportunity to substitute unless the offense substitutes first. This part of the rule will remain in place in scenarios where the play clock starts at 25 seconds.
Add to that a report from George Shroeder of USA Today that Saban talked to the NCAA Football Rules Committee before the proposal was made public, and the line isn't too hard to draw.
Wait, I've always thought of Saban as like Darth Vader, an unstoppable force filling his ranks with 5 star recruits and traveling from system to system destroying planets at will. Is this really him? Cause this sounds kinda like whining.
Exactly. Think Darth Vader calling for a rule against using the Force when firing weapons in the wake of the first Death Star's destruction.
Listen, Nick Saban has never been a terribly likable figure in the world of college football. He's dour, humorless and has never seemed interested in anything other than gameplanning for the next opponent. Unlike Les Miles or Jimbo Fisher, we never get the sense that he truly enjoys what he's doing or even appreciates the successful juggernaut he's built.
But despite all that, there's always been a certain dignity about his joyless existence. We get to make jokes about his serious manner and maniacle ability to focus on only winning through The Process, but there's a part of us that respects that killer instinct. He's understated in a way that says he spends more time thinking about him than you and his calm belies a preparedness that creates a near mythic aura of confidence. Like it or not, it's impressive.
You know what's not impressive? Crying like a 2 year old who lost his blankie after getting your ass handed to you by a pair of HUNH squads in Auburn and Oklahoma.
You're no He-Man, Nick.
But hey, Nick says this is a player safety issue so shouldn't we give it a serious look?
No, because he's completely and utterly full of shit. There isn't a shred of evidence that pace of play has any relation to player injury. Saban has brought up the player safety thing because he's a shrewd operator. Take a closer look at the last line of that NCAA rules link above:
In the NCAA’s non-rules change years, proposals can only be made for student-athlete safety reasons or modifications that enhance the intent of a previous rules change.
You won't believe this, but 2014 is a non rules change year.
So the health angle is just a means to an end?
Pretty much, yeah. If there were a proceedural rule that said "rule alterations can only be made in non-change years in the case of danger to pets" Nick would be doing spots from the Humane Society holding his trusty huntin' dog Houndstooth.
Obviously Little Nicky is evil, but he's no dummy. What's the stupidest thing anyone has said in this debate thus far?
That distinction goes to the aforementioned Bielema, a hulking dipshit of a man who has found himself completely and utterly out-manned in the SEC and for some reason sees strategic advantage in aiding the coach in his division most likely to stomp his team into goo year in and year out. When pressed by reporters to present actual evidence that the HUNH endangers players, he tossed out this gem:
Bielema, who was at the meeting in Indianapolis last week as a representative of the American Football Coaches Association, countered Calhoun's assertion by saying more plays lead to more opportunities for injuries such as concussions.
He also offered a direct counter to the claim there's no hard evidence of increased risk of injury.
"Death certificates," Bielema said. "There's no more anything I need than that."
Uh, what the hell is he talking about?
The unfortunate death of Ted Agu, a 21-year-old football player for California Golden Bears who collapsed during conditioning workouts in early February and subsequently passed away later in the hospital. It is very, very sad but has no place in this debate. Which Bielema knows because he backtracked on his inane comments pretty quickly.
That sounds cosmically stupid. So who is the yin to Bielema's yang? Who on the other side of the debate has made the most sense?
"First off, [I] doubt it will pass," Leach told ESPN's Ted Miller. "Second, it’s ridiculous. All this tinkering is ridiculous. 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."
He added: "That's really insulting that they are hiding behind player safety just because somebody wants an advantage. That's crazy."
"My suggestion is rather than spending a bunch of time coming up with a bunch of really stupid rules, spend that time coaching harder," 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."
Fantastic. Is there anybody outside of Texas Tech's athletics administration, Craig James and now I guess Nick Saban who doesn't love Leach?
So pace of play must be a really big problem for Nick in the SEC.
Actually not at all. In fact we've already seen an interesting test case in the person of Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. He came from Florida State in 2001 with the intention of running the HUNH but quickly found they like doing things a little slower down south:
"We started going fast at Florida State in 1992 and then ’93 we were going at breakneck speed as fast as we could until I got to Georgia," he said. ACC officials, he said, put the ball on the ground and got out of the way.
"It wasn’t quite happening that way in the SEC," Richt said. "Who knows what the reasons were?"
Since coming to Georgia, Richt has all but ditched the fast break offense he made famous at Florida State because, he says, the league’s officials don’t allow him to go fast enough to make it worthwhile. SEC officials are required to pause for 12-14 seconds between each play, and that’s not going to change despite Richt’s arguments, Gaston said.
"He doesn’t agree with it, but he knows what we’re doing," Gaston said.
The mandatory pause is to allow the officiating crew to get in position, Gaston said. Richt argued that the officials should put the ball in play as soon as they are set, regardless of how much time has elapsed, but Gaston said that would provide the offense an unfair advantage.
And if you've ever watched an SEC game and then a Big 12 or PAC 12 game, the difference is clear. Refs in those last two leagues spot the ball and literally sprint out of the way. Such a rigorous cardiovascular workout is nowhere to be found in college football's greatest conference.
SO WHAT THE HELL ARE WE EVEN ARGUING ABOUT HERE?!
He just wants the ability to substitute, which is something that even the SEC rules doesn't cover. Or if you're cynical like me, he wants to be sure that when he gets caught in a big non-conference game against an opponent from a fast-paced league he doesn't get caught with a crew that won't let him tie a concrete block to the legs of the opposing offense.
Hey, wait a minute. WVU plays Alabama in a big non-conference game to open the 2014 season in Atlanta! Screw Saban, I hope Holgo runs 120 plays and the play-clock never hits 30.
As Coach Saban would say, slow down. While Holgo made his bones running his offense at a torrid pace as a coordinator, there are real questions as to if he'll have the pieces in place to do much HUNH at WVU in 2014. Fact is it wasn't until the midpoint of the season that Clint Trickett was comfortable enough with the offense to go tempo and there's a likelihood that WVU could be breaking in a new QB again. There are just too many variables to reasonably expect a heavy does of HUNH against the Tide, but that doesn't mean that it won't become a major theme of the press coverage leading up to the game. Mark my words, this will get beat into the ground. It will be interesting to see how Holgorsen handles the questions.
OK, let's get down to brass tacks. When does this thing go up for vote and what should we expect?
The Playing Rules Oversight Panel will vote on the proposal March 6th and the good news is while early returns seemed to suggest the rule change could pass, in the time since news of the proposal became public, common sense seems to have broken out:
In @espn poll, only 11 of 65 "Power 5 Conference" coaches favor 10-second rule proposal— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) February 26, 2014
I won’t break down conference votes, but no league was unanimous & no league had more than 1/3 of teams in favor— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) February 26, 2014
And if you need any final proof that the rule change has died before it lived, check out where Saban chucked his own baby in a dumpster and is now sprinting in the other direction:
"I had nothing to do with the idea of the 10-second rule," Saban said.
So there you go. Nothing to worry about for Mountaineer fans, but it was an interesting insight into one of the more fascinating figures in college football history. To turn a phrase by the late, great Bum Phillips: "He can take your'n and beat his'n with his'n rules and he can take his'n and beat your'n with his'n rules."
The WVU quarterback will be a bigger factor in Dana Holgorsen's ability to play at a breakneck pace than Nick Saban could ever hope to be.
Couple quick shout-outs at the end here. First thanks to John Radcliff for that fantastic Saban photoshop work. Second tip of the cap to Senator Blutarsky over at Get The Picture, a Georgia Bulldogs blog. The Senator is a huge Dawgs fan, but if you are willing to wade through the UGA news he provides some of the best updates on NCAA issues like HUNH play and the O'Bannon case that I know. A lot of the links and news I was able to pull together here I learned about initially from him. He's got a great perspective and does snark better than anyone. Give him a look.