No-Huddle Rule: Knee-Jerk Reaction to a Knee-Jerk Rule?
Between the Mike and Mike Show and the coaches running the no-huddle systems taking the airwaves, there is ample criticism of a new rule being considered in college football. Specifically, the NCAA rules committee has recommended a rule change that will allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, excluding the final two minutes of each half, by precluding the offense from running a play during that period. The talking heads and coaches impacted hate the rule. The Confidential says “not so fast.” Let’s think this through before making a knee-jerk reaction to a knee-jerk rule.
First, the Confidential does not disagree that this rule change and the timing are improper. The rules committee did not request opinions from anyone. Those that are criticizing the procedure in getting to this point have a very good point. Whatever the reason for the rule, any rule change of this magnitude deserves actual deliberation and discussion–including contributions from coaches that actually run the no-huddle system. For Nick Saban and Bret Bielema to be pushing the rule through when it is so clearly beneficial to their teams certainly suggests a conflict of interest.
Second, the Confidential absolutely disagrees with the suggestion that the rule change should not happen because there is no evidence or empirical data to support a player safety rationale. For example, see these paragraphs from the ESPN article above:
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, whose team also runs an uptempo offense, wants to know if there is actual proof that uptempo offenses cause more injuries to players.
“Is there documented medical evidence that supports this rule change that tempo offenses are putting players at a higher degree of risk than others? If there is then show it to us,” Freeze told ESPN.com Wednesday night. “Where is it? They’re going to have to show us some evidence. If there’s not any evidence, then they should table it.
“You can do it the last two minutes of the game. Isn’t that when you should be most fatigued?”
Added Leach: “That’s really insulting that they are hiding behind player safety just because somebody wants an advantage. That’s crazy.”
The Confidential questions how anyone could have data to support the issue. Controlled studies? Regardless, a rule change for player safety need not be bolstered by a scientific study to be meritorious. Nor should the NCAA wait for injuries before concluding that there is a player safety issue. Once upon a time, concussions were brushed away as “getting your bell rung.”
Indeed, the Confidential posits that a rule change of some sort may be appropriate to address the issue of college defenders being stuck on the field for too many plays in a row–especially the larger defensive linemen. The defensive linemen often rotate significantly throughout a game. College football just tragically lost a 21-year old defensive end from Cal, Ted Agu, during training. The risks of “acute rhabdomyolysis tied to sickle cell trait” and sports (including football) are well known. See http://www.nata.org/sites/default/files/SickleCellTraitAndTheAthlete.pdf. Overall, there have been 20 college football deaths in recent years. While we may not yet know why Agu died, we do know that it is not entirely uncommon for large football players to collapse and pass away. It is not impossible for a football player to die. Let’s be clear.
The question to ask is the likelihood of an 18 to 22-year-old requesting to voluntarily take the necessary steps to come out of a game while feeling faint during the defense of a fast-paced drive. When the pace of the play is normal, there is time to wave yourself out and get off the field, allowing another defender to get on the field in time When the pace of the play is so fast, there might not be enough time to bother seeking to wave yourself out based on concern that the substitution cannot be made.
The solution may be to only play the fittest players against the high-tempo offenses. And that makes complete sense at the professional level. But at the collegiate level, there is still a bit of oversight required–as young men are less likely to recognize their own limitations. Maybe this is why there are more deaths at the collegiate level (a lot more players obviously too). The Confidential’s main point is that a rule change that is premised on the idea that defenders need to be able to get off the field if feeling faint–may simply not yet be supportable by “data” and may be worth passing simply to avoid an on-field tragedy.
Third, a compromise solution is certainly possible here. On the one hand, there needs to be offensive freedom to run a fast-paced offense. On the other hand, there needs to be a way to get defenders off the field after a handful of plays. The Confidential believes the best solution is to amend the rule so that it only applies on first down. In the NCAA, the clock already stops on first downs–make it a 12 second clock stoppage, free substitution period for the defense. The offense–having just achieved a first down–is not hampered too much, as it can run 3-4 straight plays before the next stoppage. And they can run the 3rd and 4th down plays with the fatigue advantage. By allowing the substitutions after a first down, we can assume the offense succeeded–all an offense can ask for. By allowing the substitutions at various points of a drive, there are checks and balances to allow defenders to come out.
Football is a game of strategy. It is a game of conditioning. The rules should not change because so-called geniuses like Nick Saban cannot stop the fast paced offenses. But the rules can be tweaked to prevent harm even before it occurs. If we assume there is no risk because there has been no tragedy, that is a bit absurd. And it is unclear what data can be generated to support a conclusion that there is a risk. We know young men think they are invincible, yet we know that all too many athletes have died on the field or training. Let’s not respond to a knee-jerk rule with a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, let’s not give too much weight to the coaches running the faced-paced offenses either. They have the same personal interest in maintaining the status quo that Saban, etc., have to change the rules. Think it through.