Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Alabama's Nick Saban can't win their crusade to slow college football down — in time for the 2014 season, at least — without making it about player safety.
The NCAA allows new rules in even-numbered years only when there is a safety concern, a fact that might help explain why Bielema suggested lives were at stake in defense of the proposal that would force offenses to wait 10 seconds before snapping the ball, except in the final two minutes of each half.
The Playing Rules Oversight Panel will vote March 6 on whether to adopt the proposal, which was approved less than two weeks ago by the NCAA's Football Rules Committee.
Many of the coaches who have been critical of the proposal are questioning its true intentions, noting that little-to-no evidence exists that would prove there is a legitimate safety issue.
“So many of those particulars don't make sense,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “On top of the fact that there's no statistical evidence whatsoever that shows it's not as safe as those who huddle.
“I believe it is for more strategical purposes than anything.”
Bielema and Saban each run more traditional, slower-paced offenses, and have had some difficulty against the recent influx of no-huddle attacks into the Southeastern Conference.
Saban's only losses the past three seasons came to Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma, all of which run up-tempo offenses.
Bielema just completed his first season in the SEC after seven years coaching Wisconsin in the less-speedy Big Ten Conference.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin called the proposal “an attempt to limit the creativity of the game,” in an interview with USA Today.
According to some reports, the idea for the 10-second rule stemmed from discussions at the American Football Coaches Association convention last month.
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, though, who serves on the AFCA board, told The Associated Press that the proposal wasn't discussed at the convention.
The Football Rules Committee approved the proposal Feb. 13, and in a statement announcing it, committee chair Troy Calhoun cited player safety as the reason.
“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Calhoun, who is Air Force's head coach. “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.”
Asked this week for evidence that up-tempo offenses are unsafe, Bielema said, “death certificates,” referring to the Feb. 7 death of Cal senior defensive end Ted Agu, who had reportedly tested positive for sickle cell trait.
In interviews since his original statement, though, Calhoun has backtracked, saying that if there aren't legitimate safety concerns, the rule shouldn't go into effect.
According to NCAA policy, that's exactly right. New rules can only be added every other offseason, unless there is a player safety reason to make an exception in even-numbered years.
The proposal is now in a “comment period,” in which coaches can submit their opinions to the NCAA through March 3.
The oversight panel that will approve or deny the proposal three days later includes members like Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott and MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, and isn't sports specific, which is why it usually approves proposals.
NCAA coordinator of officials Rogers Redding, though, told the AP it isn't a “rubber stamp panel.”
“The bottom line, some coaches want to have the ability to have specific personnel on every down and distance,” Stoops said. “But if you get caught with your third-down defense, and they get the first down, sometimes they're not capable of handling what you might do on first or second down.
“If the offense can manage down and distance without substitution, the defense ought to be able to do the same thing.”
NCAA Football Rules Committee
The NCAA Football Rules Committee voted Feb. 12 to approve the 10-second proposal to allow more defensive substitutions and slow down offenses.
Here is a look at the 13 members of the committee.
Troy Calhoun: Air Force head coach and committee chair
Todd Berry: Louisiana-Monroe head coach
Alfred White: Conference USA associate commissioner
Ken Beazer: Southern Utah athletic director (Football Championship Subdivision)
Thomas Yeager: Colonial Athletic Association commissioner (FCS)
Robert Nielson: Western Illinois coach (FCS)
David Sharp: Ouachita Baptist athletic director (Division II)
Keith Allen: Southwest Baptist coach (Division II)
Peter Rossomando: New Haven coach (Division II)
Gregory Wallace: Grinnell College athletic director (Division III)
Michael Mattia: Johns Hopkins associate athletic director (Division III)
Brian Surace: Fairleigh Dickinson coach (Division III)
Playing Rules Oversight Panel
The Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) will decide March 6 rather to approve or deny the Football Rules Committee proposal to slow down college football.
Here is a look at the 11 PROP members.
Jon Steinbrecher: Mid-American Conference commissioner
Larry Scott: Pacific-12 Conference commissioner
Shelley Appelbaum: Michigan State senior women's administrator
Derita Ratcliffe: University of Alabama-Birmingham senior associate athletic director
Jeff Hurd: Western Athletic Conference commissioner
Noreen Morris: Northeast Conference commissioner (FCS)
Lisa Sweany: Armstrong Atlantic State athletic director (Division II)
Kristy Bayer: Arkansas Tech assistant athletic director (Division II)
Doug Zipp: Shenandoah University athletic director (Division III)
Lynn Oberbillig: Smith College athletic director (Division III)
Sue E. Lauder: Fitchburg State athletic director (Division III)