Gus Malzahn and up-tempo coaches may have won for now, but Saban's war is just beginning. Photo: USA Today Sports
Ding! Dong! The rule is dead! At least, that is what supporters of the up-tempo offense would like to have you believe. Miracle Max, the troll living in a tree in The Princess Bride, would classify the 10-second rule as mostly dead, meaning it is still very much alive.
On Wednesday, roughly 24 hours before being put to a formal vote, the NCAA's Football Rules Oversight committee tabled the 10-second rule proposal for another time. If passed the rule would penalize any offense five yards for a delay of game penalty if they snapped the football within the first 10 seconds of the play clock. This, in theory, would help defenses send in substitutions without feeling pressured to keep up with the pace of the game, thus giving defenses a chance to catch their breaths and catch up with the quick-tempo offenses that are becoming a trend around the sport of college football. The problem was this proposed rule was presented behind the curtain of concern for player safety, a disguise that was about as transparent as Doc Brown's mask in the year 2015. Nobody was fooled. We all saw right through the disguise, and coaches currently thriving on the up-tempo philosophy on the field, as well as many respected members of the college football media, athletic directors and fans joined in the onslaught against the proposal.
Perhaps it was the widespread negative criticism of the proposal that helped put the proposal on the shelf for the time being, meaning it will not be incorporated in to the rules for the 2014 season. Or perhaps it was the lack of information to properly evaluate the rule and why it is even on the agenda. One of the common criticisms of the rule proposal was the lack of data to support any ideas that players were more at risk with up-tempo offenses. Common sense would suggest that the more plays we see in a football game, the more likely it is a player could be injured, but there is no concrete data to support that argument at this time. Even coaches who have come out in support of the rule proposal, as few and far between as they may be, have admitted there is not enough data to support the proposal. Never mind Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, who suggested death certificates supported the need to approve the proposal. Credit for sticking to the player safety mantra for Bielema, but the execution of his defense went about as well as his debut season with the Razorbacks.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been linked to the proposal like no other coach. This is because Saban had a chance to address his concerns about up-tempo offenses to the rules committee in person. We have known for some time Saban is no fan of the growing popularity of the quick offenses. Saban has become the face of the 10-second rule for this reason, and he has been ridiculed by many because of it. Is Saban scared he cannot keep up with the likes of Auburn and Texas A&M? Is Saban scared the game is evolving to a point that even he will not be able to contend? For the record, I think there is a competitive factor in Saban's mindset even if he does not want to admit it, but I do believe that if he had to then he would find more ways to adapt to stay on top. He has proven he can adapt before, except in the NFL, and I suspect he would be capable of doing it again. In fact, I would not be stunned if we see some changes in 2014 from Alabama on both sides of the football, but I am not expecting Alabama to all of a sudden become the Oregon of the SEC.
As much as Saban believes a change needs to be made, for whatever reason that may ultimately be, even he concedes the fact that there are not enough facts to support the rule proposal at this time. This week Saban made a somewhat off-mark comparison to the damages from smoking over time. It was not quite as uncomfortable as Bielema's previous remarks about death, but it did perhaps overshadow the point I believe Saban was really trying to make. We need more information on the impact up-tempo offenses have on the game and its players.
“The fastball guys say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic,” Saban said to ESPN.com. “What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.’”
You have to admit, Saban has a point here. This is why putting the proposal on the shelf should not be universally received as a victory for up-tempo offenses just yet. They may have won the battle but the war has just begun, as they say. This debate is now only set to wage on for another year, until the rules committees evaluate the rule once again in 2015 and consider sending it to another vote. By this time next year, hopefully we will have more data, research and information to properly weigh the pros and cons of the proposed rule, or perhaps a different proposal that could develop as a result. Any responsible voting party should want to ensure that a vote being cast is done so with as much information and background as possible, and we should not want those voting on the rules to do so hastily even if we think the proposal is silly (and a lot of us think that). Right now we do not have that information to make an informed decision, so let's get more information. Let's do a season-long study, and perhaps dig back over the last couple of years and see if there really is a connection between quick offenses and injuries. Let's not just say one coach is afraid of being left behind and make sure that if there is a concern over player safety that we find a way to address it. In this day and age, when sports analytics are becoming more and more ingrained in our sports, why shouldn't we have some way of reviewing this data?
I do not believe there is any added risk to player safety as a result of quick offenses, but I would like to see the breakdowns in some analytic form to point to when needed.
“I don’t care about getting blamed for this. That’s part of it,” Saban told ESPN.com. “But I do think that somebody needs to look at this very closely.”
So do I Nick.
Kevin McGuire is the managing editor of Crystal Ball Run and a contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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