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.