Guerry Clegg commentary: Bielema's comment dooms 'Saban Rule'

February 22, 2014 

SEC Arkansas Football

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema reiterated his stance that hurry-up, no-huddle offenses need to be slowed down before a meeting of the White County Razorback Club on Thursday night.

DAVE MARTIN — AP

It comes as no surprise that "The Saban Rule," as Steve Spurrier so beautifully put it, has given Auburn and Alabama fans even more sniping fodder to get through winter. It's not as if that fire needs any kindling.

What is amazing is how this debate has exploded nationally. It started as a simple rule change suggestion -- preventing teams from snapping the ball until 11 seconds have run off the play clock -- that would have very little impact on the game. It has become the big hot-button issue among college football media and fans.

Some brief background for those wondering what the fuss is about:

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema met with the NCAA rules committee to push for a new rule to slow down the hurry-up offenses. Since this is a non-rule change year, the only rule changes can be either for safety reasons or clarification of existing rules, such as that idiotic targeting rule put into effect last season.

So Saban and Bielema tried to make their case a safety issue. More plays leads to greater chance of injury. Forcing 300-pound defensive linemen to hurry up and get set before they can catch their breath is dangerous. That led to the 11-second proposal supported by Saban and Bielema.

The Rules Oversight Committee is supposed to vote on it March 6. But now, after so much backlash, it has about as much chance of passing as Woody Hayes on third-and-inches. Ironically, it was a ridiculous comment by Bielema himself that probably sealed its fate. Bielema cited the death of California player Ted Agu during winter workouts last month as support for his safety argument.

Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour blasted Bielema on Twitter.

"Bret Bielema's comments about Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive," Barbour tweeted.

A Cal Bears blog called Bielema's comments, "Disgusting. Insensitive. Callous. Vile. Despicable. Abhorrent." And that was just the headline.

If Saban's political acumen is anywhere close to his tremendous coaching ability, he will quickly disassociate himself from Bielema and abandon this safety issue charade and start building his case for next year. No one has presented any irrefutable evidence that hurry-up offenses lead to more injuries.

In fact, a case could be made for just the opposite. Hurry-up offenses make it difficult to play out-of-shape 350-pound linemen. There is medical evidence supporting theories that the increase in head injuries in football is at least partly attributable to the fact that players are bigger than they were 30 years ago.

As shameful as it is for coaches to use the facade of safety concerns to push their agenda, there is some merit to changing the rules to give defenses a break.

Before changing rules to target hurry-up offenses, here's a few ideas that could be a healthy compromise to reduce the pace of plays or the total number of plays.

• Add one 30-second defensive timeout per half. Teams already get three timeouts per half, and many teams end the half with unused timeouts. Coaches save their timeouts, especially in the second half, in case they need them in the final minutes. If one additional timeout specifically for defense isn't enough, use one of your regular timeouts.

• Allow defenses time to substitute and get set after every first down. I mentioned this in my previous column. That's logical because the clock is already stopped to move the chains.

Or …

• Add a 30-second break after every fifth play during a possession. Recognize the irony here? This would effect the ball control offenses like Alabama's. Isn't it also a safety concern when a defense has to be on the field for a 12-play, seven-minute drive?

• Play a running clock except for the final five minutes of the game. Why should the clock stop after an incomplete pass? "Because it has always been that way" is the worst reason of all.

• Change the idiotic overtime format. One reason scoring is up and games are running longer is that the college overtime rule heavily favors the offense. Either adopt the NFL's version of sudden victory or eliminate placement kicks entirely. Games that go into overtime will end quicker if the teams are not trading field goals or if they are forced to go for two after every touchdown.

But that's for next year. Until then, leave the rules alone. Except for clarifying that stupid targeting rule.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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