Should the pace of college football be regulated?

Submitted by vbnautilus on October 4th, 2012 at 11:11 PM

Nick Saban made some comments yesterday suggesting that the trend of increasing pace in college football is unhealthy:

I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety," Saban said on today's SEC teleconference. "The team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they're snapping the ball as fast as you can go and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up. That's when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt when they're not ready to play. "I think that's something that can be looked at. It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we're averaging 49.5 points a game. With people that do those kinds of things. More and more people are going to do it. "I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking is this what we want football to be?"

The purity of Saban's intentions aside, is this something that should be considered? Mathlete's analysis this week showed that offense is steadily increasing in recent years. I enjoy watching offense as much as anyone, but is there a point where the balance between offense and defense tips too far in one direction and is no longer good for the game?



October 5th, 2012 at 9:24 AM ^

It dilutes the enjoyment received from scoring. It turns it into basketball where I don't really care until the 4th quarter. And I enjoy watching a good defense play; I've never understood why some people think touchdowns are always amazing but sacks are somehow boring. The way to go is a game in which an offensive show is on display but within reason so that you're hanging on every play because a score is a huge deal. In conclusion, hockey is better than soccer and basketball. What are we talking about again?


October 5th, 2012 at 7:18 PM ^

Man that was fun to watch. It has absolutely nothing to do with why Saban's 100% disingenuous "protect the kids" argument or the utterly terrible suggestion he offered in general. Great defense can exist just fine against hurry-ups, e.g. Alabama's defense. But it was damn fun to watch that again.


October 6th, 2012 at 1:04 PM ^

I want to bring THAT back. And put it up against a spread, pro style, option, hurry up, or any offense.

Moeller ran a pro style no huddle offense for awhile, but didn't the Big Ten change some rule to help the other team substitute that kinda neutered it? It's obviously not still in effect, but I vaguely remember we went away from it because enough people were complaining and the rule was changed. But I can't find a reference for it.


October 8th, 2012 at 9:28 AM ^

Are you thinking of when the NFL did the "matching subs" rule in response to Marv Levy's K-Gun Offense in the early '90s? That rule said if the offense makes a personnel change they can't snap the ball until the defense has had time to match--as long as they were marching down the field with the same players though everyone was stuck.

If the Big Ten did something similar around then I was only 11 or 12 so I don't have any personal recollection. I know about the K-Gun because of NFL Films.

I'll pose the question in the next Dear Diary to see if any of our older readers know. Great question.


October 8th, 2012 at 3:42 PM ^

But I might be combining that with the complaints we used to get when we'd make the refs quiet the crowd when we at the line (probably for good reason...stupid rule).  I just seem to remember we didn't do it as much even before Lloyd took over; even when we were still under Mo, and he was the one who started it here.


October 8th, 2012 at 10:28 PM ^

didn't find what I wanted yet but found this instead, and it's completely new to me:


The NCAA last night greatly simplified the college football coaching profession by giving final approval to the most liberal substitution rule since 1952. Under the new rule a coach will be allowed unlimited substitution whenever the clock is stopped, and two substitutions on any down, even when it is running. The only restriction to completely unlimited substitution is a provision that a team must use one of its times out to put in more than two players when the clock is operating. --Harvard Crimson, Jan. 14, 1964…

That's right, from 1953 to 1963 teams were not allowed to substitute while the clock was running.

I have vague memories of my first games in the mid-60s and had no sense of anything like the mass situational substitutions that are commonplace now. Now I know why--it was against the rules. I'm not sure when this was changed next, but at least for a while in the 60s you couldn't change more than two players without calling timeout...and that was considered a "liberal substitution rule".



October 5th, 2012 at 1:39 PM ^

To each is his own. Nonetheless, although I wonder if Saban was just using it to enact changes in college football that would benefit his style, the health concerns of the kids are the more important factor to be considered. It is much easier to hurt yourself when you are dawg tired after a 15 play drive where you haven't had the opportunity to sub. 5 or 6 drives into the game and this becomes a little more dangerous. Something for minds more attuned to the nuances of the game to consider I guess.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:18 PM ^

What, someone found the secret to overpowering Saban's defense and now he has to complain about it, saying it's "unfair"? Hurry-up is a strategy that coaches need to coach against. Are they going to make some rule of "you have to wait at least 20 seconds before you snap the ball"? What are teams going to do in a real two-minute drill?

And besides that, I think hurry-up is more exciting to watch than Lloyd/Tressel-ball.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:25 PM ^

yeah the 2 minute drill is the key point here. every team, even alabama I'd have to assume, will at some point be behind in the game and have to run a hurry-up, no huddle offense to try and score. if a rule was implemented to slow down offense how would it handle that. you cant take it out completely, people would be pissed if their team couldn't run enough plays to score on a drive because they had to wait. its never going to happen so I dont even know why im writing this...


October 4th, 2012 at 11:22 PM ^

If the offense can be conditioned enough to handle the accelerated pace of the game, so can the defense.  Saban's making a pretty stupid argument here in my opinion.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:57 PM ^

But the offense determines when the play begins, so they can start the play before the defense is set.  

I'm not saying I agree with him, but its conceivable that injuries could increase for the defense under those conditions.   It's not simply a matter of conditioning. 


October 5th, 2012 at 6:09 PM ^

There's a reason that teams routinely rotate their defensive linemen, but don't do this with their offensive line.

It's more fatiguing to respond to movement, or to contact, than to initiate it. You can see (and feel)  this pretty clearly in basketball, and even more so in hockey--when a team can't clear its zone and get a change it's the defense, not the offense, that suffers most.

I'm having trouble thinking of a sport where defense isn't more tiring than offense, if there's any consideration of fatigue at all.

Lazer with a Z

October 4th, 2012 at 11:25 PM ^

It's amazingly transparent that Saban forsees having to play Oregon for a championship this year, and is trying play some head games early. 

Nick, if you are such a defensive genius, you will find a way. 

Maybe run some stuff from your Miami Dophins days....oh, wait. 

turd ferguson

October 4th, 2012 at 11:34 PM ^

That doesn't make sense (re: Oregon).  Obviously, he doesn't think that the NCAA will change this rule mid-season, and if anything, he told Chip Kelly that he thinks his guys get exhausted and injury-prone as the game speeds up.

It's very likely he's saying this because he thinks that he's better off if no one can speed up the game like that, but he's doing it for a long-term advantage, not an advantage this season.

Lazer with a Z

October 4th, 2012 at 11:45 PM ^

Agreed. I don't think they will change the rule either. I guess what I'm saying is because he has two working eyes and a brain, Saban sees that this is exactly the type of team that has a chance to be his team. So, why not send out a few shots at this new fangled way of thinking that he doesn't approve of.

I don't think that anyone will be able to line up against Alabama and beat the physically. However, if a finesse team like Oregon or WVU comes in and executes (and finds a way to play defense (!)), I could see the Bama defense wearing down a bit. 

However, someone made a point tonight on ESPN (Jesse Palmer, I think. I know, I know) that the key to beating a team like Oregon is the keep your offense on the field and plod down the field, which Saban would love. 

Long story short, Saban is a dick. But, he is actually a good football mind and somewhat of a politician. He's trying to plant the seed of doubt, and the fact we are talking about it shows that he has succeeded.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:30 PM ^

While this is naked self-interest, that's not actually a logical ground to dispute his argument. I can't say I've seen a increase in injuries that appear to be due to pace. If anything I've seen people faking injuries in order to slow down tempo teams.

I think Fremeau posted over on twitter that "2.8% of offensive possessions this year have lasted 14+ plays. 0.6% have lasted 16+ plays. 0.01% have lasted 18+ plays." so his argument could be that a disproportionately high percentage of these injuries occur on these types of drives. Personally I think there's way too small a sample size to accurately judge that and I can't personally recall seeing too many more injuries due to up tempo college football.


October 5th, 2012 at 1:32 PM ^

Wouldn't the simple fact that there are more plays per drive and more plays overall mean there are more injuries because if injuries happen once per (making up) 10 plays then you'd have more injuries in a game with 80 plays rather than 50? You don't get injured in the down time between plays, unless it's one of those strange kicker celebration injuries.

Not that I'm saying it should be legislated against; just that I don't think it takes a statistically analysis to see the potential danger.

Space Coyote

October 4th, 2012 at 11:35 PM ^

While I see what Saban is saying (the more players get tired, the more likely they are to get hurt), that is part of athletics. Getting your team in shape is just as much a part of football as getting your team lined up correctly and your package of players you want on the field. Football is a sport, you can make your players better athletes fitness-wise and then this is less of a problem. To make everybody wait around so everyone can catch their breath makes football something closer to untimed chess.

While I think the rules have bent too far in favor of the offense in many areas, I don't think this is an area to be looked at. What happens if a team is down a few TDs? What happens late in the 4th quarter? This is a bad idea.


October 5th, 2012 at 1:36 PM ^

And maybe what Saban should be railing against, though I doubt it would do much good. The rules have gone way too far in the offense's favor. They're made practically helpless and you get silly baskeball scores. The only reason these rapid fire drives go on and on is because they can keep getting first downs. Because you can't breath on a receiver anymore, and you touch the QB and it's roughing. I can live with some of the latter for player safety, and take out the head to head hits on receivers and such, but make receivers get off blocks again and stop making two hand touch even a penalty. Then you'll get some balance on these quick drives, because they'll just as often be quick 3 and outs.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:37 PM ^

Excuse me but football teams today get long TV timeouts after every change of possession, plus actual timeouts that stretch several minutes more than they used to, and many drives are punctuated by drawn-out official reviews. Teams today get way more time to stand around with their hands on their hips than any who played in the first century of the game, most of whom played both ways I'll remind you.

And what's he regulating? Should teams have to wait 10 seconds between plays to snap the ball now? What about during the 2-minute drill, or is that exempted? You see how quickly this becomes ridiculous?

More plays means more football. I agree that it also means more kids will get injured because more chances, but the only dangerous thing they're doing is playing more football--if we had just 10 plays a game the kids would be even safer, but football wouldn't be a game worth playing anymore.

Saban is just looking for an angle, or to cut off every angle but his own. The entirety of the effect will be to decrease the amount of football you get to watch. Saban wants this because he is anti-football.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:39 PM ^

earlier this morning that there is no evidence of the amount of injuries increasing as the pace goes up. I cannot find it or remember where I found it.  If anybody can find it, it would be awesome!

Two Hearted Ale

October 5th, 2012 at 7:29 AM ^

I suspect that injuries do go up when the pace of play is higher but not because the pace is higher but because there are more plays.   More plays means more injuries.  The fix to that is simple.  Increase the play clock to 30 or 35 seconds and don't stop the clock to move the chains (like the NFL).  This would allow uptempo teams to continue to play fast, and other teams could slow the game down on offense to protect their players.


October 4th, 2012 at 11:44 PM ^

If Saban can produce some concrete data that shows injuries increase as tempo increases, then I'd be ok with considering something like this. I strongly suspect that will not be possible though, so definitely no, it should not be regulated.