While his name has been prominently mentioned as one of what appears to be a small group of coaches in favor of the controversial rule proposal that would somewhat throttle high-octane offenses, Nick Saban has yet to speak publicly on the imbroglio. Until now.
Prior to speaking at a Georgia Minority Coaches Association event Friday night, the Alabama head coach met with reporters and made it perfectly clear that he “had nothing to do with the idea of the 10-second rule.” Saban, who was reportedly permitted to speak in front of the NCAA’s Football Rules Committee that forwarded the proposal to the NCAA Rules Oversight Panel for further consideration, added that he doesn’t even “necessarily have an opinion on the 10-second rule” before going on to give his opinion on why the proposal needs further research.
Essentially there are three reasons behind Saban’s call for further research, which some would call nothing more than thinly-veiled support.
The first and most-stressed reason, as the company line goes for those in favor of a proposal that would penalize an offense if it snaps the ball before 10 seconds have run off the play clock, is player safety. The higher the tempo an offense runs, the theory goes, the more opportunity there is for players — specifically those on the defensive side of the ball — to wear down, thus making them more susceptible to injury.
“When you look at plays that are run, and a team averages 88 plays, and we average 65 at Alabama, that’s 20-something plays more a game over a 12-game season, that adds up to four more games a year that guys have to play,” Saban said in quotes transcribed by al.com‘s Joel Erickson. “I think it’s wear and tear and tougher to prepare players when you have to play against a hurry-up offense because of the way you have to practice.”
Three teams at the FBS level in 2013 — Texas Tech (90.3), BYU (89.9) and Cal (88.7) — averaged more than 88 plays per game per TeamRankings.com. A total of 20 teams averaged more than 80 per game, while 33 averaged 70 or less. The Tide’s 65.9 plays per game were 116th (out of 125 teams), with Arkansas and Bret Bielema, a vocal foot-in-the-mouth proponent of the proposal, at 121st with their 64.7 plays per game.
Saban said the 10-second proposal was born out of the committee studying “12 games of three fastball teams: Oregon, Auburn, Texas A&M and I forget the fourth one, it might have been Baylor, I’m not sure.” That study found the new rule would’ve impacted those teams an average of four times per game, meaning that narrow focus group snapped the ball prior to 10 seconds running off the game clock around four times per game. Saban used that limited data to once again shift the focus to the player-safety issue.
“I don’t think anybody was trying to change what they do or how they do it,” Saban said of the Fast Four, “but the fact that they can get on the line and snap it quick, you can’t substitute. All right. So, that becomes an eventual player safety issue and I think if you ask the guys philosophically, a lot of them that run the offense, they say we want to wear the defense down and get the defense tired. Well, you get the defensive players tired they are going to be more susceptible to getting injured.”
That study by the committee and the rule’s supposed limited impact on uptempo offenses is rather skewed, however, as Baylor, which was fifth in plays per game, was the only one of the four that finished in the Top 30 in the country in that category. Noted “fastball” teams Oregon, Texas A&M and Auburn were 39th (76.6), 61st (73.8) and 62nd (73.8), respectively.
Most of the opponents of the new rule proposal, including all four of those teams used by the committee, have cited no hard scientific data to support that this is a player-safety issue. Saban, though, had an answer for that as well.
“Even though there is no scientific data to prove this, there was a study at Virgina Tech in 2003,” Saban said. “All right, they did sub-concussive head traumas on eight players for 10 games. Those players played 61 plays a game and had 18 sub-concussive hits in a game, so they played 61 plays a game for 10 games.
“So, I’m saying if you’re playing nose guard, three-technique, defensive end, offensive tackle, offensive guard, if you played 88 plays in a game, there’s no scientific evidence but there is some logic that says the guy would have more hits. So, that’s a player safety issue that I think people need to sorta look at.”
In addition to the player-safety issue, Saban also cited officials being allowed to dictate the tempo of the game — he lauded the NFL for allowing its officials to control the pace of the game, not coaches — and “any competitive imbalance created by the pace of play,” the latter of which most people feel is the crux of Saban’s
support for the proposal call for additional research.
The NCAA Rules Oversight Panel is expected to vote yea or nay on the proposal this coming week, with most predicting the proposal will be shot down. At the very least, the proposal will be tabled for further discussion in 2015 as it’s not an issue of player safety and thus not up for immediate implementation.
“I think this is more of a style of play issue than a player safety (issue),” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said at the same event. “I think if you could teach offensive players to play six plays in a row, you can teach defensive players to play six plays in a row.”