Sports Columns

February 20, 2014

Tom Lindley: Rule change would make major impact on college football

The NCAA Football Rules Committee will take a hard look at a simple question when it meets on March 6: More plays or less?

A proposed rule would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball into action until 29 or fewer seconds remain on the 40-second play clock. The current rule permits a center to hike the ball immediately after it has been set for play.

Head coaches who are proponents of the change — namely Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema — say it’s a question of player safety. The current rule makes it difficult for defenses to make substitutions. There’s simply not enough time to get players off and on the field against a no-huddle or hurry-up offense.

Limiting how quickly plays begin will benefit the defense, especially one stacked with talent that can be inserted into the game against various down-and-distance situations. And that explains the furious reaction from coaches who have employed quick-striking, elaborate offensive schemes designed to score points in bundles.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Washington State’s Mike Leach have dismissed the idea to slow the pace of the game as a joke. How can you blame them? They want a chance to score before the defense gets set.

The difference between teams that employ fast-paced offenses and those dedicated to defense are significant. Texas Tech led the nation’s offenses this past season, averaging 90.3 plays per game, followed by Brigham Young, which averaged 89.9 plays. Contrast that with Saban and Bielema’s teams. Alabama’s offense ran on average 65.9 plays, while Arkansas ran 67.7.

The difference offers a clear insight into the coaches’ strategic thinking and approaches to managing football games. The offense’s advantage is twofold: It knows the play and when it’s coming. The defense’s strength is that players can continuously move to different spots on the field to enhance their chances of stopping a run or pass.

The push behind the change officially falls under the claim of player safety. That seems logical at first blush; more plays would increase the risk of more injuries. However, there’s no definitive evidence either proving or refuting that assumption.

Research suggests the number of injuries to offensive and defensive players aren’t that much different. Dave Bartoo, founder of the trend analysis website The College Football Matrix (cfbmatrix.com), cites size and speed as the primary factors that lead to player injury.

One point in his analysis seems most noteworthy: From 2009 to 2012, teams in the Big 12 Conference averaged more snaps played on offense and defense than any other conference — yet they had the fewest player starts lost to injury on offense and defense, as well as the lowest injury rate per play on offense and defense.

It’s easy to see that programs built around strong defensive units favor a more controlled game. Opposing coaches looking for an edge — or an offense built around a surprise play or trickery — must be more imaginative to get that edge.

Coaches of teams favoring no-huddle offenses are always devising new ways to outscore the opposition. Defensive-minded coaches — more conservative by nature — play to get the lead and then let their defense take over.

In the end it is a balancing act. Some teams score so quickly (or turn the ball over on downs just as fast) that their defense gets little time to rest and subsequently wears out.

Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong received criticism for intentionally slowing down star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Once his team got a lead, Strong preferred to let the clock run and allow play calling to become more conventional. His harshest critics said his style may have cost Bridgewater a chance at winning the Heisman Trophy. Strong’s 12-1 record at Louisville and a lopsided win against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, though, are strong evidence that his plan works.

The matter now goes to the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel, where it faces an uncertain fate. A case for change built around safety isn’t overly convincing. The notion that defenses can’t substitute between plays has merit.

Break it down this way: Do you favor more offense from those who play the game like Johnny Manziel — or less?

For me, that one’s not even close.

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. You can write to him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

1
Text Only
Sports Columns
  • 7on7 day 2 '14 17 mlh.jpg Devin Golden: Friday signals gridiron days’ official start

    Seven-on-seven football was a good placeholder, but it’s time to begin talking about the real thing.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Loran Smith: Golf now in era of McIlroy after Open

    Royal & Ancient officials, under whose auspices the Open championship is conducted each year, were blessed with a sun-kissed start of the final round of the 143rd playing of this historic event.

    July 21, 2014

  • Loran Smith: McIlroy at his peak at Hoylake

    HOYLAKE, England — It’s the setting which enraptures those who appreciate the things that accompany a championship, The British refuse to let a downpour or two, intermittent and inconvenient, to make them fret.

    July 20, 2014

  • Loran Smith: Change is needed for major titles

    HOYLAKE, England — This is a good time to be Bubba Watson — long off the tee which brings golf aficionados through the gates, two Masters titles which puts him in the pantheon of the greats at Augusta, deal-makers hovering about, more perks than a palace prince, exempt status to the end of the decade and a cash flow that resembles a raging river.

    July 19, 2014

  • Loran Smith: Harman is living his childhood golf dream

    HOYLAKE, England — One thing about golf that has remained constant since Young Tom Morris won his fourth Open in a row in 1872 — when Ulysses Grant was president of the United States and Brigham Young was arrested for bigamy (he had 25 wives) — is that a little man can play the game.
    Football players are becoming bigger — often illegally — and basketball players are growing taller, but a golfer can excel at any dimension if he hones his skills enough to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes. Golf is not a behemoth sport; there are no concussions, no strikeouts and no fistfights. Let the game prosper.

    July 18, 2014

  • Loran Smith: Brits know how to hold classy affairs

    HOYLAKE, England — Summertime is a royal time for the British, who have more sporting options in a six-week period than some societies have in a lifetime.
    If you think the U.S. is keen on sport — with the NBA finals lasting into June and baseball and golf dominating the scene — consider what takes place in the land of our forebears. Wimbledon gets underway the last week in June for a fortnight of resonating excitement. Wimbledon is like Augusta National or Churchill Downs — a memorable experience regardless of who walks away with first prize.

    July 15, 2014

  • A Look Ahead: State golf coming to Nob North

    My history as a golfer can be summed up with some well-known words from 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes — “nasty, brutish and short.”

    July 14, 2014

  • CharlesTodd.jpg Devin Golden: Todd leaving a legacy of success

    To many, Charles Todd is known as “coach Todd.” Some of the divers, swimmers and water polo players who have been on his teams in the Dalton area over the years shorten that to simply “coach.”

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Larry Case: Take a shot at improving your aim before you hunt

    Do you consider yourself an accomplished marksman with a shotgun? Are you satisfied with your shooting in the bird field or on the clay target range?

    July 11, 2014

  • Jamie Jones: What does Sting's number mean?

    Here are the notes and news items from the week in pro wrestling: Sting has left TNA. But will he resurface in WWE?

    July 11, 2014