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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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College's defensive coach go on defensive

Last Modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 11:36 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Whoa there, football coaches. Put your hands up, nice and slow; step away from the rule book, and let’s talk about this for a minute.

It appears the old guard is trying to pull a slick one here in getting a new college game rule slipped in.

They might even be right, but they’re moving too fast in their effort to slow down the game.

If you missed it, the NCAA Rules Committee has proposed a change in the game whereas offenses will be required to wait until at least 10 seconds have ticked off the 40-second play clock before snapping the ball for play. The only exception would be the final two minutes of each half, when obviously sometimes you just don’t have that luxury.

The irony is that offenses that snap the ball too quickly will be flagged for … delay of game.

So at least they have a sense of humor.

It might be a good idea for the competitive balance of the game. But right now it looks like a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that may or may not exist.

The NCAA normally moves with glacier-like due diligence.

But this thing could become the law of the college gridiron if the rules committee’s proposal is approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

That may sound like an awkward committee that could keep things tied up in hearings for years, even generations, but the thumbs-up or thumbs down will come precisely on March 6. Of this year.

Hate to sound like a bloated bureaucrat, but the issue needs more study, more data, more frank discussion, more heated debate.

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Brett Bielema were on hand to push their causes to the rules committee. They had no real reason to be there, but, as two of the most outspoken critics of the pop-gun offenses, wanted to make sure their voices were heard.

Nothing wrong with that.

But let’s make one thing clear: this rule is not about player safety.

So it has to wait at least until next year. End of discussion.

Rules changes are allowed only in odd-numbered years unless they involve player safety.

So the 10-second rule’s proponents have dressed this thing up in the cloak of player safety — more plays + less chance to substitute = more chance of injury — not only to expedite it through, but also to borrow a buzz word hard to ignore in these more sensitive times.

They apparently got away with it.

Bielema and Saban aren’t the only alarmists, but it’s worth noting that Bielema’s own offense is borrowed from the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust stone age and Saban’s proud defense could barely slow down fast-paced Auburn even before the ill-fated field goal attempt.

There’s a lot more at play here than “player safety” and it’s splitting college football as clearly as Republicans and Democrats split the U.S. Congress.

The biggest problem with the original no-huddle, hurry-ups — i.e., the unfair advantage they got — wasn’t so much the hurry-up part as the lack of an honest huddle.

They’d often take their sweet time snapping the ball. That wasn’t the problem.

But, sans huddle, they’d line up immediately, waiting for their cues from the sideline (which could come at any time), which also begat that annoying meerkat imitation by offensive linemen constantly bobbing up and down from their stances and looking for redirection.

The defense could run players in and out, but, with the offense holding the trigger, it always ran the risk of getting caught in mid-substitution.

That wasn’t fair. It gave offenses all the cards.

But that part has already been taken care of by a rules adjustment. If offenses substitute, even without a huddle, referees step in over the ball and allow the defenses time to counter with their own chess move before allowing the ball to be snapped.

So what’s the problem now?

In fact, there was a time when the SEC looked down at the hurry-ups as hopeless gimmickry, desperate moves for desperate folks trying to hide inferior talent.

Remember when the SEC would smugly look out at the Pac-12 and sigh, “Don’t be bringing that stuff in here, you’ll only hurt yourself”?

But now that the hurry-up stuff has infiltrated the conference from within — Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, to name a few — it’s like it has to be nipped in the bud.

A few years ago LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis admitted that coordinators hadn’t quite caught up with the newfangled stuff. But he said it in an offhand manner which suggested the solution was coming sooner than later.

Apparently not soon enough.

Are we to believe that if Nick Saban can’t stop it, it must be unfair?

Saban may be right about one thing.

Before it became a matter of “player safety” he wondered aloud (after easily beating hurry-up Ole Miss) if that is the way the game is supposed to be played.

Is it, he asked, supposed to be a “continuous” game, like basketball or rugby played with faster players and the forward pass?

And there is something mildly reassuring, in an American sort of way, about seeing a team huddle up and break that huddle as one.

But what preliminary data there is suggests that even the most quicksilver of teams rarely snap the ball within the proposed 10-second, no-snap window now.

No need to fix something until you’re sure it’s broken.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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