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Goofy NCAA Rules: Fast Is The New Slow

Monday, February 17, 2014 10:38am
By: Mark Owens

As you may have noticed, we’ve been running a series of stories in recent months covering the ---what’s the kindest way to put this? --- “curious” ways in which the NCAA often governs its member institutions, with particular focus upon the ways these enforcements impact the student-athletes who make the games possible. 

And tempting as it is (and it is) to write something about the continued unconscionable meat-market sale of these “amateur” college athletes (for yet another example of the blinding hypocrisy of the NCAA and/or some of its schools, I invite you to take a look at what Syracuse was caught doing with Tyler Ennis’ jersey, fresh on the heels of his 35-foot, buzzer-beating shot to keep the Orange undefeated…..)

No, today let's focus on what some schools are proposing to change the games on the field. Specifically, the football field. 

At a recent meeting of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, the group recommended that teams be given delay of game penalties (and the five-yard walk-off that goes along with the infraction) not just for taking too much time, but for not taking enough of it

You read that correctly. 

There exists a powerful lobby in the college game who’s tired (literally) of seeing their guys gassed trying to keep up with no-huddle offenses. And you know the old saying: when you can’t beat ‘em, BAN ‘em. Or something like that. 

Notable coaches lining up behind this initiative include Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Alabama boss Nick Saban, among others. And their point of view isn’t without support among the coaching ranks; two other proponents of the slower style, Louisiana-Laffayette’s Todd Berry (ranked 93rd in plays per game in FBS) and Air Force’s Troy Calhoun (104th) both sit on the committee itself. 

As Saban recently told ESPN, ““All you’re trying to do is get lined up [on defense]. You can’t play specialty third-down stuff. You can’t hardly scheme anything. The most important thing is to get the call so the guys can get lined up, and it’s got to be a simple call. The offense kind of knows what you’re doing." 

Washington State’s Mike Leach, never exactly microphone shy, is on the record as believing that the new rule will not pass, and expounded further to ESPN.com

“All this tinkering is ridiculous. I think it deteriorates the game. It’s always been a game of creativity and strategy. So anytime someone doesn’t want to go back to the drawing board or re-work their solutions to problems, then what they do is to beg for a rule. I think it’s disgusting.” 

The mere fact that it’s even up for consideration speaks to the sentiment ---and power ---of many old-guard football coaches who are having increasing difficulty stopping spead, no-huddle offenses. And the idea that it's being pitched as a player safety issue is, at best, specious. 

The majority of coaches, however, apparently see it differently, particularly some noted proponents of the up-tempo style of play. Many of them have taken to social media to share their opposition to the proposed rules change: 

You get the idea. And from where I sit, frankly, it’s hard to argue the point. This doesn't feel like a movement to protect college football players; this appears much more like an effort to help college football coaches...high paid professionals who are out of answers with regards to stopping modern offenses. 

Look, college football has never been more popular. Stadiums are filling at unprecedented rates, with a record 50.3 million fans clicking the turnstiles at campuses across the nation this past season. On top of this, conferences are (almost) literally printing money with their new network TV rights deals. The Big Ten Network has turned into a media powerhouse, and with the SEC launching its new proprietary network with ESPN in August of this year, there looks to be more money piling in. And closer to home, the ACC continues to mull following suit and perhaps launching its own cable/satellite outlet within 2-3 years, per John Swofford. 

Conference realignment itself has been driven behind the inertia of college football's rise in dominance. 

The point is simple: the game has never been more popular with fans, and correspondingly, with advertisers. In proposing and vocally defending this potential change, old-school, traditionalists like Saban and Bielema come off as looking petty and childish.

Overmatched, even.

Football’s history is rife with changes in playing style that have required change from the way coaches teach the game (see also: pass interference, targeting, helmet-to-helmet contact and, around the time of Theodore Roosevelt, the advent of the forward pass). 

Certainly coaches as accomplished as 4-time National Champion Nick Saban should be able to scheme and recruit as to not be left at a complete disadvantage, no? 

The NCAA Football Rules committee will next take up the subject with the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel during its March 6 meeting. Until then...