Guerry Clegg commentary: Nick Saban disguises motive for rule change

sports@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 15, 2014 

Nick Saban might have a point. Somewhere buried under the hypocrisy and contrived concern about safety, there could be a good point.

The football should not be snapped before the defense has a chance to line up and get ready. Games should be decided on execution and not gimmickry. A fair fight, if you will.

We'll get back to that. The problem is that Saban has disguised his motives as well as he has disguised his pass coverages. In his pursuit to ban the hurry up no-huddle offense, Saban has made his argument all about safety.

The fact that he wants to slow down the offense that has handed him three of his last five losses is mere coincidence.

This is an off year for general rule changes. So the only way a rule change can be implemented for the 2014 season is for safety reasons. Another mere coincidence.

Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema are old defensive coaches (the coincidences abound) who want to get rid of the hurry up offense. You know, for safety reasons. So they've taken the lead in trying to push a rule that would force offenses to wait until 11 seconds tick off the play clock before they can snap the football.

Saban and Bielema went before the NCAA Football Rules Committee and requested the change. The committee has proposed the rule change to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which meets March 6. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is the chair of the rules committee and sides with Saban and Bielema.

"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," Calhoun said. 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."

Since safety is first and foremost on their minds, they should push for some other rule changes to protect the young men who, let's not forget, are primarily in college to pursue their education. Take a look at how every single injury over the last five years has occurred -- not just in games but in practice, in the weight room, during conditioning -- and ban any activity that has led to more than one injury.

No hitting quarterback from behind.

No stunts and twists by the defensive line.

No more schemes to create mismatches, like having a 185-pound running back block a 290-pound defensive end.

Give the punt returner a 5-yard halo and make the "gunners" come to a complete stop before they can wipe out the punt returner.

No more gang-tackling.

Eliminate Thursday night games for teams that played the previous Saturday.

No kickoffs when the temperature is over 80 degrees. Heat safety is imperative.

No more games played on a wet field.

No pulling an offensive lineman to block.

Oh, almost forgot about those poor kickers and punters. Get them off the field. Let teams put an extra player -- call him a designated defender -- on the field. He starts the play standing five yards behind the kicker or punter. Once the ball is kicked or punted, the kicker or punter is immediate inactive and must leave the field and replaced by the DD.

No one other than the quarterback can touch the ball for more than three consecutive plays.

Players must be designated offense, defense or special teams. After all, the idea of slowing down offenses is to reduce the number of plays in the game. So if a kid plays 80 snaps on defense, he shouldn't be allowed to participate on special teams. Or maybe we should just limit the number of plays anyone can play.

Remember folks. It's all about safety.

Now, about the idea of competitive balance, giving the defense and offense an even chance.

I'll buy that. Let defenses substitute freely after every first down. After all, they're already stopping the clock to move the chains. If a defensive player runs on or off the field while the clock is stopped, keep the play clock stopped and give the defense a chance to complete the substitution and get set.

It's a judgment call, much like the basketball official making sure everyone is ready before he or she hands the ball to a player. Once the referee signals to start the play clock, the ball can be snapped.

But since we're talking about leveling the playing field, we need another rule change. Defensive players must come set just like offensive players.

If the offense motions two players, so can the defense. If the defense moves a player, the offense has two seconds to respond and the play clock is immediately turned off.

It's about fairness, right?

--Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at

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