Nick Saban believes officials should control flow of game, not coaches

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Nick Saban hopes the college game starts to resemble the NFL a bit more in the years to come.

Just before taking the podium to speak to the Georgia Minority Coaches Association at Columbus State on Friday night, Saban offered his thoughts on the NCAA's rule proposal that would penalize offenses for snapping the ball within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. While many have framed the proposal as a standoff between coaches who run up-tempo schemes versus those who use more traditional, slower attacks, Saban wanted to remove all of them from the argument.

If he had his way, coaches wouldn't be able to decide the flow of a game, noting that in the NFL, it's in the hands of the officials.

"They spend a lot of money in the NFL figuring out what's best for the game and what's best for the players," he said. "They have a lot invested in it and … I think in some situations the officials controlling the pace of the game in that league has benefited the players and I would like to see the officials be able to control the pace of the game (in college). The officials control the pace of the game in all games, but they don't in college football."

Though he has been portrayed as one of the driving forces behind the proposed change -- along with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema -- Saban denied he had played any role in its creation. He said the NCAA Football Rules Committee came to the conclusion itself after looking at film of teams that run hurry-up, no-huddle attacks, specially breaking down Oregon, Auburn and Texas A&M.

"They said, 'OK, how many times did they snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the game?'" Saban said. "It averaged four times a game."

Because of that, Saban believes critics have it all wrong; the rules committee wasn't trying to change what coaches who favor snapping the ball quickly try to do.

But his stance remained the same in one respect: He still believes it's a safety concern for defensive players.

"The fact that they can get on the line and snap it quick is that you can't substitute.

"That becomes an eventual player safety issue," he said, "and I think if you ask the guys philosophically, a lot of them that run the offense say, 'We want to wear the defense down and get the defense tired.' Well, you get the defensive players tired they're going to become more susceptible to getting injured."

Saban then cited a study from Virginia Tech to defend his position.

In 2003, the school studied eight players for 10 games, looking to see whether any sub-concussive head trauma occurred during that span. Saban said the study found that those players averaged 61 plays a game and suffered a total of 18 sub-concussive hits.

"So I'm saying if you're playing nose guard, 3-technique, defensive end, offensive tackle, offensive guard, if you play 88 plays a game, there is no scientific evidence, but there is some logic that says that guys would have more (concussive) hits," he said.

"That's a player safety issue that I think people need to sort of look at."

In Saban's estimation, it's a three-pronged issue.

Along with the disparity in snaps per game across college football -- with the coach noting it ranges from 61 plays per game on the low end to 88 at the pinnacle of frenetic offense, with his Alabama squad clocking in at 65 snaps per contest -- he also pondered whether officials are able to properly perform their jobs when given so little time from one play to the next.

"They're not in position when the ball is snapped, just like defensive players aren't in position when the ball is snapped," he said. "So that's a game administration issue that people should probably look into. "

Saban's third point centered around how pace of play creates "any kind of competitive imbalance."

"The bottom line is, was football intended to be a continuous game?" he asked.

"Soccer is a continuous game. Rugby is a continuous game. But for the physical elements that are involved in playing a football game and the number of plays that you play, I don't know that it was ever intended to be a continuous game."

Regardless of what happens March 6 -- when the Playing Rules Oversight Panel will decide whether to pass the rule change proposal -- Saban hopes it's a verdict that satisfies everyone.

"Look, I'm all for what's best for the game. The game is what it is," he said. " … What's best for the game -- that's what Nick Saban is for."

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