SEC media days storylines -- No. 3

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 11, 2014 

Auburn vs Arkansas

After a contentious year that saw the two disagree on numerous topics, it appears relations are warming between Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.

TODD J. VAN EMST — Auburn University

Editor's note: SEC media days begin July 14. Every year, a theme seems to emerge, whether it's a tiff between coaches or a cause taken up by commissioner Mike Slive. But with less than a week until it arrives, what are the top storylines entering the annual media event? Ryan Black gives his take, counting down from 10-1.

No. 3: The debate that won't end

At the conclusion of last year's media days, one thing seemed certain: first-year coaches Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn didn't seem to like each other. It began with Malzahn responding to criticism of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that he and others employ, as some described it as a "safety hazard" to defensive players.

Malzahn took it in stride and mounted a counteroffensive.

“When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke,” Malzahn said. “As far as health or safety issues, that’s like saying the defense shouldn’t blitz after a first down because they’re a little fatigued and there’s liable to be a big collision in the backfield."

Not surprisingly, Bielema didn't take too kindly to Malzahn's levity.

“He thought it was a joke? Huh. I’m not a comedian. Everything that I say is things that I truly believe in," said Bielema, making sure to emphasize that he viewed his brand of offense as "normal American football."

While the debate died down once the season began, it started up again in February when it was announced that Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban had voiced their approval for a proposal to slow down up-tempo offenses. The proposal would have allowed defenses time to substitute between plays by prohibiting offenses from snapping the ball until 29 seconds are left on the 40-second play clock. One month later, the NCAA Football Rules Committee withdrew the proposal, citing a lack of evidence that up-tempo offenses lead to more injuries.

But the battle was far from over, as Saban shifted the discussion into the role that officials should play in determining the pace of the game. Saban wants to see officials dictate how quickly teams snap the ball, while Malzahn and others, as one would expect, are vehemently opposed.

Given the strong feelings on both sides of this debate, it's hard to believe it won't be brought up multiple times at media days next week.

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