Alabama head coach Nick Saban. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 05, 2014 2:05 PM
Nick Saban’s Alabama teams may have ended the season by giving up the most yards he’s ever allowed in back-to-back games, but the man still knows how to play defense.
Saban is usually the smartest man in the room, and he proved it again when he chose to walk as far away and as quickly as possible from the so-called 10-second rule.
It’s also known as the Saban Rule in some circles, but now its namesake says he really doesn’t have an opinion on it.
The rule, as I’m sure you’ve heard, would decree a 10-second run off from the 30-second play clock before some of these overanxious offenses could snap the ball.
“I really don’t necessarily have an opinion on the 10-second rule,”Saban said in an AL.com interview.
That’s odd, because Saban, who can coach-speak with the best of them when discussing, say, the problems of facing Tennessee’s defense, has never been shy about expressing on matters relative to college football in general.
He usually makes a lot of sense, too.
And, at one point, Saban apparently had quite an opinion about this matter.
When the NCAA Rules Committee was considering proposing the rule, Saban thought enough of it to personally fly up, uninvited, to address the group.
Saban is college football’s alpha dog, and when he speaks most everybody pays attention. Some even fawn over him.
But this time it may have backfired, even though the committee did decide to give the proposal its stamp of approval.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, a totally different, tongue-twisting and much more diverse group, has the final say, and that say will come Thursday.
Usually, it’s a formality for that bunch as it rubber-stamps whatever the rules committee dreams up.
Not this time.
Since it went public, the rule has been roundly jeered, not only by the hurry-up crowd but by many innocent onlookers as well.
It would appear the slow-down rule now has little chance of becoming college football law, at least not this year.
Saban knows a sinking ship when he sees one.
In fact, his appearance before the committee may have done more than harm than good for the new rule’s supporters.
The backlash can be at least partly explained by the appearance of Saban merely trying to get his way and force-feed his preferences for the game on the masses.
Bullying, after all, is a hot topic these days.
That’s probably not what he had in mind, but it was the perception.
In the semi-firestorm after the proposal became public, Saban kept his mouth shut and distanced himself from the thing.
Maybe he didn’t want to be associated with three consecutive losses.
But he suddenly clammed up.
That was way smarter than Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, a true fire-and-brimstone zealot of the slow-down movement and presumed to be the de facto co-author of the proposal.
Bielema tried to use the tragedy of Cal player Ted Agu’s recent death — after a training run, not during a football game — as fodder that the pace of the hurry-up offenses was a threat to the health of the players.
When asked if there was any proof that the hurry-up offenses were a safety issue in a game, Bielema references Agu and said:
“Death certificates. There’s nothing more I need than that.”
If a tragic death after a training run is going to be linked to the hurry-up offense, then perhaps football is unsafe at any speed and surely the game should be banned in polite society.
One would wonder how Bielema could sleep at night being a party to it.
Saban didn’t go there.
He said safety was a key concern, but admitted there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the hurry-up offenses were any more accident-prone than most anything else that happens on a football field.
But he also said one of his concerns was that he’d like to see officials step in and control the pace of the game.
More like, he said, the NFL does it.
Saban is smarter than me, and probably you, too — and certainly Bielema — but he ought to be careful what he goes wishing for there.
No, no, no, do not let the college game imitate the NFL on this or most anything else.
The college game does a much better job than the NFL on this.
Most fans won’t agree, but I’ll say it anyway — the college game is pretty well officiated.
There are notable exceptions — humans make mistakes — and fans have long memories of the lapses that sunk the home team.
But for the most part, you don’t notice the officials in a college game.
In the NFL, the officials seemingly ARE the game.
They get more TV time than Ellen Degeneres.
Admit it, every time the Saints get a sack, your gut instinct is to look for the flag. Same for a pass breakup.
TV announcers feel the need to cap off a big play with the all-clear that “There are no flags,” on the rare occasions that there aren’t any.
It’s made the game almost unwatchable, unless you have a rooting or financial interest.
The college game surely doesn’t need that.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org