NCAA proposes rule change to slow up-tempo offense
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
(AP) -- Not so fast, college football offenses.
A proposed change by the NCAA rules committee would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds had run off the 40-second play clock, slowing down the up-tempo, no-huddle attacks that have been making defenses dizzy.
The rule allows defenses time to make a substitution without the offense changing players - as is currently required - and with no fear the ball will be snapped before 29 seconds are left on the play clock. An exception will be made for the final two minutes of each half, when the offense can snap the ball as quickly as it wants.
"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, chair of the football rules committee, said in a statement Wednesday. "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."
The committee also proposed a change to the targeting rule that would eliminate the 15-yard penalty when instant replay officials overturn an ejection. Last year, when a targeting penalty was called, the 15-yard penalty stood even if the replay official determined the player should be allowed to stay in the game.
Both proposals need approval from the playing rules oversight panel, which is schedule to consider them on March 6.
The proposal to slow down offenses will have a hard time passing if the many coaches who run up-tempo these days have anything to say about it.
"It's ridiculous," said Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, who has been at the forefront of the fast football trend.
"For me it goes back to the fundamental rules of football. The offense knows where they are going and when they are going to snap the ball. That's their advantage. The defense is allowed to move all 11 guys before the ball is snapped. That's their advantage.
"What's next? You can only have three downs? If you play that extra down you have more chance of injury."
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said he found about the proposal when he got a phone call from Auburn's Gus Malzahn, a fellow advocate of up-tempo offense.
"I said, `Y'all are kidding me. That's not true,'" Freeze told Malzahn.
This is a non-rules change year for the NCAA, but exceptions can be made for rules that affect player safety.
There was much discussion about the pace of the game last season, with some coaches - most notably Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema - questioning whether something needed to be done to slow down offenses. Safety concerns were cited because of the increased number of plays. The fastest-moving teams - such as Arizona and Ole Miss - average more than 80 plays per game. Texas Tech led the country with 90.3 plays per game last season.
Arkansas ran 64.7 plays per game, 121 out of 125 FBS teams. Alabama was at 65.9, 116th in the country.
Freeze said he was skeptical of the health risks presented by up-tempo offense because he's never seen any data to support the claim.
"I would think they would have some type of study that proves that," he said.
Rodriguez has been pushing the pace with his teams for more than two decades and doesn't buy safety concerns.
"If that was the case wouldn't every team that went fast in practice have more injuries?" he said.
The committee said "10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock."
Freeze and Rodriguez both said their offenses rarely get plays off within 10 seconds of the ball being spotted.
"If they say it's not occurring anyway, why put in a rule?" Freeze said. "I just don't really understand what we gain from this rule other than a chance to create more chaos."
It's not just the up-tempo coaches who voiced their disapproval with the proposal.
"I just spent two days at Big Ten meetings and it wasn't even brought up," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "It doesn't make sense to me." The Scarlet Knights ranked 84th in the country in plays per game (71).
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, a former defensive coordinator whose team averaged 78 plays per game (28th in the nation), said the proposal was never discussed during last month's American Football Coaches of Association convention.
"This came out of left field," he said. "It's wrong."
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
Updated February 12, 2014