By Shehan Jeyarajah
College football fans are divided on a proposed rule amendment by the NCAA Football Rules Committee that could slow down the no-huddle offense.
The proposed rule change, spearheaded by Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, would make it a penalty to snap the ball until 29 seconds remain on the 40-second play clock. If the ball is snapped before 29 seconds, a delay-of-game penalty will be assessed. This rule was proposed under the theory that lessening the number of plays in a game could lessen the injury risk of the game.
Fans and coaches of schools that run hurry-up offenses are not buying it.
“I would have to see some scientific or statistical information showing an increase in injuries,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “To me right now, it’s just talk.”
ESPN’s college football reporter Joe Schad tweeted that coaches with hurry-up offenses feel as though they should be rewarded for having players that are in shape rather than allowing others to substitute.
The direct allure of a hurry-up college football offense is to try and move down the field as efficiently as possible, but forcing the offense to allow defenses to substitute takes away from the power of the offensive strategy.
In a football game, an offense can put pressure on the defense by forcing them to stay in motion and adjust on the fly to the quickly changing schemes. Even if they do not snap within 10 seconds, simply the threat of the snap can dictate how defenses line up and substitute, leading to fatigued defenders and opportunities for offense.
Coaches have a simple philosophy to dealing with hurry-up offenses: don’t legislate, just coach better.
“If it’s only a small percentage of teams that it would affect, then why do it?” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “If the large percentage are good with the way of things are then leave them alone.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was upset with the proposed change. He took to Twitter to express his displeasure, saying that college football’s popularity shouldn’t be messed with.
Baylor would be one of the teams most affected by the rule, after running the fifth-most plays per game in FBS football this season.
“People don’t want to come sit in the stands and watch the clock move,” Briles said. “If they’re going to change anything in my mind, change it to a 35-second clock.”
Saban and Bielema coach two of the slowest offenses in football. Alabama has lost two regular season games over the past two years, one to Texas A&M and one to Auburn. The Aggies and Tigers both run hurry-up systems.
“It’s clear manipulation, through self-interest, by people who don’t want to coach within the parameters where strategy and ingenuity have taken the game,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “So now they want to manipulate the rules, and in needing an excuse to do this, they try to hide behind player safety. It’s ridiculous.”