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Rule to slow down offenses sparks lively debate

03/03/2014, 10:51pm EST
By JOHN WAGNER BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Opponents say evidence doesn’t back injury concerns


Babers

Bowling Green State University football fans are licking their chops in anticipation of the 2014 season, their first opportunity to watch new coach Dino Babers’ high-speed offense in action.

But if a proposal by the NCAA Football Rules committee is adopted, they may not get the chance.

The proposal requires offensive teams to allow the 40-second play clock to run for at least 10 seconds before snapping. It’s worth a laugh to note that should a team not wait the required 10 seconds, it will be flagged for delay of game.

But Babers and other coaches who run fast-paced offenses aren’t laughing. NCAA football rule changes run in two-year cycles, and the only rule changes that could be enacted for the 2014 season are those that address player safety. The committee pushed this proposal forward because of safety issues, but Babers felt it was a direct attack on their style of play.

“Show me the evidence,” Babers said. “Show me if there’s proof that [waiting 10 seconds before snapping] is safer.

“Where are the facts?”

Only one fact is certain: There is little research to indicate that fast-paced offenses cause more injuries than slower-paced ones.

“I’m not aware of any research one way or the other that indicates [fast-tempo offenses] result in more injuries,” said Nick Richey, Bowling Green’s assistant athletics director for sports medicine. “One thing I do know is that those who say a kid wouldn’t have time to get off the field aren’t correct.

“I’ve never had a problem with a kid getting the assistance he needs if he’s injured.”

While Richey has seen BG’s new high-powered offense for just four spring practices, he feels that style could possibly lead to fewer injuries.

“I would argue that this style of play dictates that athletes have to be in better shape to play it,” he said. “If they are in better shape, I think that would lead to a reduced rate of injury.”

What makes the proposal more curious is that, when it was announced, the NCAA admitted that, “Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock.”

The rules committee is expected to discuss the proposal again in the next few days, then either send it to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel for its March 6 meeting, table it, or withdraw it.

Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, a member of the Playing Rules Oversight Panel, said he has spoken to all 13 MAC coaches about the proposed rule change.

“The first thing I hear from all of them is this: If they saw data that, from a health and safety angle, would support this proposal, they would support it as well,” Steinbrecher said.

Because there is little research to support it, though, a majority of Football Bowl Subdivision coaches oppose the legislation. An ESPN poll of all 128 FBS coaches showed that only 25, or 19.5 percent, favored the new rule. A total of 93, or 72.7 percent, opposed the rule, and nine coaches, or 7.0 percent, were undecided while one refused to participate.

While the ESPN story did not reveal individual votes, the report said no league voted unanimously against the rule, but no league had more than one-third of its teams in favor of the rule.

University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell joined Babers in opposition to the proposal, while University of Michigan coach Brady Hoke seemed to straddle the fence on the issue.

“If a kid's playing 93 plays a game, 70 plays a game and he's rotating, that's a lot of wear and tear on [his] body,” Hoke said. “If you play in a championship game, you're playing 13 games. We've got head trauma issues in football, and we're not the only sport that does.

“We've got health and wellness issues we talk about all the time. If it's proven that [high-speed offenses cause more injuries], then I think we need to look at it and see exactly the research and the data that might be there.”

While Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has not spoken on the topic, offensive coordinator Tom Herman is against the rule.

"We're not an uber-uptempo team that believes more offensive snaps are better. That's not following the plan to win,” Herman said. “But we want to be able to use tempo to our advantage, and last time I checked, the play clock was an offensive mechanism. We were in control of that.

“I've got a hard time of believing under the guise of safety — based on all the data that I've seen, or lack of data that I've seen — I've got a hard time believing that something like that will pass. It's made for interesting off-season conversation, that's for sure.”

Even though the issue may be struck down this year, it may return next year. And then the conversation may be different: Instead of hinging on safety concerns, the discussion instead will focus on strategy.

But that is down the road. For now, Babers hopes that a proposal based on limited research with little discussion between coaches won’t be enacted this season.

“I believe those involved in the decision-making process eventually will do the right thing,” he said. “Deep down, coaches are good people, and I believe they will do what’s right.

“I believe we’ll all sit down and talk about this, and eventually we’ll do what’s fair.”

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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