I’m a slow-moving individual. I prefer to saunter. I like to think for a good while before reacting. I’m meticulous, methodical, measured and any other M-word that would bore a jackrabbit. It took me three minutes to write this paragraph.
So you can trust I’m not rushing to judgment with this declaration: The NCAA should stop its inane effort to slow down college football’s turbo offenses. And they should abandon the idea quicker than it takes a Pac-12 team to run a play.
This slow dude loves fast offense.
But more than that, I love freedom, creativity, innovation and a diversity of playing styles, all of which would suffer if the recommendation of the NCAA Football Rules Committee becomes law. The committee wants to change the rule to allow for defensive substitutions within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. If an offense snapped the ball before 29 seconds remained on the clock, it would be called for a penalty — a delay-of-game penalty, which is funniest thing I’ve heard this week.
Actually, it’s the second-funniest thing I’ve heard. What’s more laughable than calling a delay penalty on a team trying to hurry up? It’s the committee’s contention that the rule change is needed for player safety. The NCAA didn’t offer any data on rising injury rates because of pace of play. It didn’t detail how this rule could curb injuries, other than making the layman’s claim that more plays per game carries more risk.
The chairman of the rules committee, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, said in a statement: “As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”
Player safety is now the default explanation to rationalize messing up the game. It’s annoying to hear the sport’s decision-makers pretend to have parental concern for their “student-athletes” when their motivations are much deeper.
What’s this proposed rule change really about? Some influential coaches are tired of offenses being way ahead of defenses. Tradition is the bedrock of college sports, so why change with the times when it’s easier to bellyache that some of the sport’s best, oldest and most conventional programs will be diminished if the new school is allowed to flourish with these crazy tactics?
Nick Saban is starting to lose more than normal at Alabama, and these space-aged offenses are doing most of the damage. It’s hard to be a defensive genius when the offense is hustling to the line of scrimmage, not allowing you to substitute and dictating the game.
Another potential issue: A faster pace equals a quicker game, fewer stoppages of play and fewer opportunities to load up televised games with commercials. It’s a side factor, but it matters when you consider the billion-dollar TV contracts and the need to maximize advertising income.
Restricting how fast teams can play is an unnecessary decision. College basketball wouldn’t dare abolish the fast break or demand that its teams pass the ball around five times before shooting just so the defense could adjust. And college football wouldn’t decide, out of the blue, that all quarterbacks must operate under center because it’s too hard for pass rushers to get to quarterbacks in the shotgun. You should change rules to make the game better, and college football is thriving because some teams have mastered the art of playing fast.
I once wrote that fiddling with the pace of play is an offensive gimmick, but over time, I’ve learned to appreciate it as a legitimate offensive strategy. It requires exquisite execution and discipline. It allows the players to have control and not be over-coached robots. It’s challenging to defenses, but defenses are starting to respond and figure out how to combat these offenses.
College football is as exciting as it has ever been, and part of the reason is the varying styles. Put in this new rule, though, and the game will be slower, which will mean too many wrestling matches in the trenches and too many teams playing copycat.
Steve Sarkisian went to an up-tempo attack at Washington last season, and it went so well that he’s now the coach at USC. It was fascinating to see the Huskies go from one of the slower-paced teams in the Pac-12 to a dynamic offense that sometimes moved the ball at will. It’s a more athletic, wide-open style, and when two speed-racing teams collide, it creates a rush of excitement — caused by non-stop action — that’s addictive.
Why put an end to all the fun? Why limit ingenuity? Why hinder the potential for parity? Teams without great play up front can use this style and avoid getting manhandled by the few programs that can recruit the biggest and fastest.
I may move at a leisurely pace, but I get it: Speed thrills.
Don’t be ridiculous, NCAA. College football has a need for speed.
Slow down and think about it.