Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Kliff Kingsbury, the last three losses for Nick Saban have come against uptempo teams—and Alabama outgained Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma by 200 yards. Is the so-called “Saban Rule” the work of a budding offensive mastermind?

 
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — College football’s 10-second rule had its 15 minutes but was tabled Wednesday. What a relief for huddle-haters everywhere. Now Rich Rodriguez can get off the acting bus and get back to coaching the second-best program in Arizona.

The very thought of this proposal had offensive play-callers ready to snap (then again, aren’t they always). It was mockingly branded the “Saban Rule” by South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, who had a knack for zinging rivals long before someone suggested offenses take a breath. Alabama’s powerful coach absorbed the brunt of criticism—some veiled, some direct—because he spoke to the NCAA committee in favor of a rule that would flag offenses for snapping the ball before the 40-second play clock reached 29.

Kliff Kingsbury questioned the authenticity of Saban’s agenda, pointing out “the last three losses he’s had had have been against up-tempo teams. I’ll leave it at that.”

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen joked that refs should penalize offenses “if you don’t snap it within 10 seconds.” His offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson called efforts to slow down the game “the dumbest thing ever.”

Auburn speed-game guru Gus Malzahn actually took a more measured approach—successfully requesting the measure be tabled—only to have his boss come off sounding like a blowhard.

“It’s a joke, is what (the rule) is,” Auburn AD Jay Jacobs told AL.com. “Everything’s going faster in sports. You get penalized if you don’t play fast enough in golf.” (And you thought there was no room for J.B. Holmes in a football debate.)

Yes, this was broached as a player-safety initiative, which it had to be to warrant consideration during a non-rule change year. Yes, if more plays within a game creates danger, then so does playing more games—like the 12-week regular season, topped off by those conference championship games and the much-celebrated college playoff. None of those are going away.

Come 2015, when rules can be enacted on their game-management merit, coaches like Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema can tackle it more directly as a pace-of-play issue. In fact, Saban already has done this.

Last season, before his team lost to Auburn and Oklahoma, Saban publicly questioned whether football should be a continuous sport (like basketball or soccer). Clearly, defensive coaches relish the ability to substitute situational packages, but that half of the story was underplayed. Instead, columnists joined the tsunami of snark by pitching outcries from offensive-minded coaches, all of whom possess their own selfish interests for keeping the game uber-fluid. It’s their brand, their livelihood.

The safety data remains shallow on this, yet proponents of the 10-second rule were vilified for even attaching injuries to the argument. Each side used anecdotal evidence to color its position. The effects of 190-snap games on players’ bodies must be gauged over years and nuanced to differentiate between concussions and turf toe. And whatever the hell this injury was:

 

How long before the Academy includes the category Best Original Swoon? Should refs start handing out red cards?

Hurting the player-safety angle is the realization that even the most uptempo units—such as Baylor, Oregon, Auburn—rarely snap the ball within the 10-second window anyway. Sure, they line up in a bat-crazed hurry, but that’s partially a strategy to prevent the breathless defense from subbing.

By now, we’ve all heard how in the BCS title game Auburn ran a total of four plays before the clock hit 30. Four plays! That doesn’t sound like a game-changer, save for the fact that Auburn’s hurry-to-the-line setup—where there was a threat of snapping quickly—probably impacted at least another 30 plays. Some of the most acrobatic moves witnessed on fall Saturdays have featured defensive assistants sprinting and leaping to get a timeout called before a catastrophic misalignment occurred. The offenses love this. The rule is far from meaningless.

The hyperbole I don’t get? Offensive coaches claiming this rule is akin to undoing the forward pass. The game’s evolutionary junctures typically have favored the offense: granting pass-blockers liberal use of their hands, allowing QBs to “ground” passes once out of the pocket, the ridiculous threshold of illegal contact required to call offensive pass interference. Would it kill the sport’s popularity to give a couple seconds back to the defenses? (On a broader topic, if uptempo offenses are limiting specialty packages, does football really need all 85 of those scholarships? Couldn’t a few be transitioned to the underserved sports of baseball or wrestling? But I digress …)

As for the 10-second rule’s 2014 eulogy, it stood zero chance of adoption this year, and all 128 FBS coaches knew it. Such a fundamental change requires consideration, and this was step one for the Sabans of the world, who might well be concerned about injuries but also want the ability to matchup personnel.

“Let’s not distort the facts because of your personal agenda,” said Rodriguez, during his “Speed” spoof that surfaced this week.

Come on, Rich. Agendas are like buyouts … every coach has one.

bubble graphic

17

bubble graphic

Comments

  • Mountaineer Fanatic

    I was looking at the new recruits for all of the FBS teams on Rivals. Just for the fun of it I checked out 2015. Everyone here should take a gander at the Big 12 recruiting for 2015. Never guess who is on top. NOOOOOO it is not Texas, it is the MOUNTAINEERS!!!!!!!

  • thornton

    The three photos of the coaches in the article illustrate an interesting pick by....someone. Hmmmmm.

  • Mtnman

    I still like RR. But that last line was good Allen. I had to scroll back up to see who wrote it.

  • Shadow

    Oldest gambit of Sports: If you are getting beat,change the rules to favor your style. It works in Politics also.

  • Adam H

    Wow, this article goes from criticizing Saban for wanting to adopt this 10 sec rule, to criticizing RR. Im not sure that there is supposed clear cut support for one side or the other. Maybe just talking in circles was the point here.

  • Jay

    The final line of this article is amazing. Brilliant. Well done, Allan!

  • Bill

    To me, this is all about the SEC losing it's hold on being the best conference. Instead of having to adapt to the ever changing game of college football, they want to change the rules. This proposal is a joke.

    • Allan Taylor

      Bill: Several SEC spread coaches like Malzahn, Hugh Freeze, Butch Jones and Kevin Sumlin fought the rule. Can't apply outdated conference stereotypes to this debate.

  • Jake

    Allan,

    Well, there's no hiding your agenda. It's obvious you support the 10-sec rule. I think it's a terrible rule personally. However, let's not overlook one thing you alluded to: Uptempo teams rarely snap the ball within 10 seconds anyway.

    Well, if that's really true, then why would we need the rule?

    The truth is this Allan: although uptempo teams rarely snap the ball within 10 seconds, the existing threat that they COULD snap the ball within 10 seconds is the x-factor that changes EVERYTHING. That simple truth is the game-changer.

    Don't you understand that?

    • Allan Taylor

      Yes, Jake, I do understand, because I wrote EXACTLY that in the column.

      "... That doesn’t sound like a game-changer, save for the fact that Auburn’s hurry-to-the-line setup—where there was a threat of snapping quickly—probably impacted at least another 30 plays."

      • Jake

        That's EXACTLY what I'm saying Allan - you are wrong in your assumption that the threat does not change the game.

  • Independent View

    Allan: Thanks for a well-reasoned and even-handed approach regarding this issue.
    I care little what side Rich Rod comes down on this issue, that's his perogative.
    And, anyone that has followed Rich Rod's coaching career, from hero to zero at WVU & Michigan and back to hero at AZ , sees this guy for what he is, a crybaby, charlatan and someone that's never happy.
    In a nanosecond he can go from an engaging gentleman to wildman--without warning. Last week when the Academy Awards were handed out, Rich Rod should have received an Oscar for his acting ability and his sideline antics. His acting ability was on display for all to see when he goes on TV and said he did not owe WVU $4 million, when in fact, when Michigan stepped up an agreed to pay the major part of it, instantly RR cuts a deal with WVU. Another display of his acting display was the TV clip of him crying crocodile tears at Michigan while boo-hooing, "I want to be a Michigan man."
    RR is the poster boy for crybabies in college football.

  • jay zoom

    If you can't handle the pressure of the game get out of the business take your football and go home

  • scott

    so Allan, is this article written to take shots at RichRod or to talk about the rule proposal? say what you want about Rich, but this rule proposal exists because of what rod did over 20 years ago at Glenville.

  • Gimme Moore

    I like Dana's Blue & Gold gear in the cover photo. I personnaly like the black better, just sayin.

  • Aaron

    Golfs can talk about uptempo all he wants but I think if my strong point were running, I'd take my time, run the ball and frustrate defenses.

    There's more than one way to dictate tempo.

    • Aaron

      Holgs can talk about uptempo. Auto correct on an iPhone can be a pain.