HOOVER, Ala. — Earlier this week I read a published report quoting Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema suggesting that college football’s hottest trend, the fast-paced offense (think Oregon, Auburn, etc.) raises serious questions about player safety, presumably by creating more plays in a game and, therefore, more opportunities for players to get tired and injured.
Bielema went on in the article to at least indirectly say that those who disagree with his position on the fast-paced offense are simply, well, stupid.
Which presumably makes Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, among many others, stupid.
“I don’t know where this all started from,” Pinkel said when he met the media here Wednesday, referring to the perceived risks to player safety of fast-paced offenses. “We came from the Big 12, which has had fast paced offenses for years. Never once in all my years in the fastest league that plays football, the Big 12, did I have my team doctor, my trainer, or any of my coordinators walk into my office and say, ‘Gosh, I’m really concerned about the health of our teams playing these fast-paced offenses.’
“I think it’s great that that’s another component to football and being creative,” Pinkel added. “I don’t buy the health issue in any way. I think it’s fiction.”
To which Bielema, speaking later Wednesday, replied: “I’m probably more of a reality-based movie guy than fiction, I guess. I think I deal more in what I know, what I see, what I believe.”
The issue of fast-paced offenses has come to a head in the past year, in part because of a rules proposal put before the NCAA football rules committee this past winter that there be a built-in 10-second window between plays from scrimmage, so that the players and officials could regroup, make substitutes, catch a breath, maybe grab an iced tea, if need be.
And, oh yeah, such a rule would also allow more conservative and generally more talented, physical teams to have an advantage.
Nick Saban’s Alabama teams, not coincidentally, fall into that category. It’s widely perceived that Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban spearheaded, the ‘geez, we’re tired, hold on just a second, will ya?’ movement, presumably somewhere around the time Saban’s Crimson Tide lost to Auburn.
The idea was shelved by the rules people. For now.
The debate continues, however, with no one backing down.
“Have I softened in my view of fast-paced offenses?” Bielema said. “The only thing I’m going to say to that, if you ask me in that tense, you’re asking me have I softened my view on player safety. The answer would be no.”
Malzahn, for his part, said earlier this week: “I think if you look around the country, a lot of teams are playing fast. Really, if you look at high school teams, the majority of them are spreading it out, playing fast. Look at the NFL, with Chip Kelly. I just think that’s where the game is going.”
One issue it seems like all sides can agree on is that the targeting rule instituted in college football this past year has proven to be a good thing. That rule penalizes players for direct hits to the opponent’s head, in some cases with disqualification from the game in question.
The NCAA rules committee had the common sense to allow video replay review on such hits, taking some pressure off of officials on what is often a bang-bang situation, no pun intended.
“The target rule was the biggest, most significant change that we have had in my tenure as an official,” said Steve Shaw, the SEC coordinator of officials, on Wednesday. “We simply had to change player behavior for the good of the game. I believe we started to see this type of player behavior change that we were looking for. As the season progressed, we saw less targeting activity.”
Shaw said the rule has been tweaked for 2014.
“If replay overturns a targeting foul, there will no longer be a 15-yard penalty assessed,” Shaw said. “Last year the 15-yard penalty stood, no matter what. If the targeting foul was overturned, the player got to go back in the game.”
The SEC Media Days conclude today with coaches and players from Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama on the docket. UK’s Mark Stoops has brought players Bud Dupree, Za’Darius Smith and Jordan Swindle.
The only other coach to talk to the media Wednesday, aside from Bielema and Pinkel, was LSU coach Les Miles.