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McCollum's Column: Are the proposed rule changes really about safety?

Posted: February 14, 2014 - 8:13pm

Years ago, when wishbone and veer offenses were the terror of high school and college football, you know what some coaches were complaining about?

Safety.

A few coaches were worried about the fatigue factor and their players wearing down from the 3-yards-and-a -cloud of dust and having to play disciplined and assignment football against teams that were relentless and methodical.

So now, with the advent of high-powered and fast-paced football, it’s interesting, and a bit comical how some coaches (Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema included) are trying to play the safety card in arguing for proposed rule change that would require an offense have to wait 11 seconds (allowing possible defensive substitutions) before it could snap the ball.

It’s one to be opposed that the new-age philosophy of offensive football. It’s another to try to use player safety, a major reason for proposed rule changes this year, as a false front.

The argument is absurd, almost laughable, and on the surface it is a surprising one coming from some good, well-respected coaches.

It’s like basketball coaches advocating a uptempo, fullcourt pressing team has to wait five seconds after the team scores a basket to employ pressure on the ball. Or teams who like to go up and down the court having to wait three seconds before it can attack the basket once across halfcourt.

If you’re going to make a safety and avoid-injury argument in football, why not have kick coverage players have to wait three seconds before they can charge downfield and attack a return specialist? Or you could have defensive linemen have to count “one one-thousand to five one-thousand” before they can rush a quarterback.

Plus, some coaches are making a case for an issue with no medical or scientific data to back it up.

None.

Silliness.

Here’s the real reason.

Offenses are so much ahead of the defenses nowadays that coaches who adhere to a more traditional, hard-nosed philosophy don’t know how to stop it. And the fast-paced attacks are spreading, literally and physically.

Gus Malzahn and his fast-paced Auburn offense defeated Nick Saban’s Alabama team, a icon for shutdown defense.

When Missouri and Texas A&M came into the Southeastern Conference, some observers figured those SEC defenses would teach them a thing or two about going against those flimsy Big 12 offenses. How’d that work out? Check the scores and Johnny Manziel’s stats.

“It’s a completely different game now,” Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, who built his reputation on physical, shutdown defenses, told The Sporting News. “You’ve got big, strong athletic guys on the other side of the ball, and the goal is to spread the defense and create matchup problems. You’ve got splits on the offensive line that you’d never see in the past; linemen are so athletic, they can cover ground and create a larger area of the point of attack. You’ve got 325-pound offensive linemen with tremendous athletic ability pulling in the run game, and the screen pass game.

“There’s speed everywhere on the field. Now throw in the dual-threat quarterback, a guy that you have to account for every single snap. They’re going to find a weakness. It’s only a matter of time.”

And if you want to argue safety, what about Saban’s defenses forcing so many three-and-outs that opposing defenses have to return to the field quickly and fatigue and become more injury-prone? Saban then becomes trapped in his own argument.

Some statistics reflecting the overall and growing trend in college football:

In the first year of the BCS in 1998, there were 33 teams that averaged more than 30 points a game. Last season, there were 57.In 1998, there were 31 teams that averaged more than 400 yards a game. Last season, 71 teams surpassed 400 yards a game.           

Last season, 63 teams averaged at least 40 percent on third-down conversions, and 32 teams were 45 percent or better. Any coach at any level will tell you converting 40 percent or more on third down translates to winning football.         

The theory behind the up-tempo, spread attacks is it equalizes and spreads the playing field because it makes the power teams and big, power players play in space and be more concerned with individual matchups.

It’s the same principle as guerilla warfare. I’m sure the Redcoats complained a lot about safety issues and pace when the original New England Patriots refused to line up arm-to-arm and fight traditionally but fired their shots under constant movements from the bushes and the woods.

And is arguing for the 11-second delay really about safety or is it about strategy to allow the defenses to get more set in the traditional way? Will 11 seconds really make that much of a difference as far as safety?

It’s ridiculous that such a rule change is even being considered.

I recall what a high school coach once told me about those wishbone offenses pounding and wearing his players down.

“You know the best solution?” he said. “Stop ‘em.”

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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