Rounding the Belt On the Proposed NCAA Football Rule Changes

RUN BIELS RUN! - Gregory Shamus

Being the no-life-having bloggers that we are we decided to hold a little round table and share our opinions on the NCAA's proposed change to how the play clock is handled.

The NCAA, being the forward-thinking organization it is, proposed some interesting rule changes for college football the other day. Among the ideas floated are changes to the targeting penalty and how challenges of it are handled, as well as an amendment to the rules of defensive substitutions.

The idea here is that offenses move too fast, and it's endangering the safety of players. In order to make the game safer the Rules Committee has recommended making a defensive substitution period during the first 10 seconds of a 40-second play clock. If implemented it means offense would have to allow the first 10 seconds to run off the 40-second play clock before snapping the ball in order to give defenses a chance to substitute. Those who snap the ball before that time limit has ran up would be assessed a "delay of game" penalty (yes, a "delay of game" penalty for moving too fast, the irony).

Naturally, the proposal sparked some immediate strong vocalizations of stances on the proposal from those in the industry, and like nearly every fan of college football, several Hustle Belt contributors had rather vocal opinions on the matter as well. Considering the up-tempo nature of many of the MAC's offense, our teams are some of the very ones these rules would have the most immediate impact on. We decided to share our opinions with you via a regular old-fashioned Hustle Belt roundtable.

Alex Hider:

It's silly that the NCAA is trying to stunt the growth of the game of football. It's innovations like the no-huddle offense that have allowed the sport to evolve from literally kill the man with the ball to the most popular game in America. Instituting a 10-second rule would be like banning dunking in basketball or outlawing the "live" ball in baseball.

That being said, if the rule changes are approved, I don't think they will have that much of an impact on the game. Often times, teams aren't running a play every ten seconds in the third quarter of a game, and the rule won't apply under two minutes in the half. In fact, the top offenses in the MAC often take on average over 20 seconds to run a play. Defenses will be able to sub in fresh legs, but at the price of going lower on the depth chart. At the same time, 10 seconds isn't a lot of time to run on the field, find your position, hear the defensive play and pick up on offensive keys. It certainly bails out the defense, but the offense still has an advantage.

Bryan M. Vance:

Like many I was initially outraged at the idea, and the audacity to pass it off as a "safety measure". If the big hulking offensive lineman can survive a hurry up offense, than defensive lineman should get their asses in shape or get off the field (this coming from a guy who ate egg rolls for breakfast today). I'm still laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole idea (thought I changed my mind, didn't you?). Football is a game of cat and mouse. Offenses moving at the speed of a UPS truck on an empty country road (s/o Chip Kelly!) are the cheetahs, and defenses, as the angry rats they are, are left chasing.

Whether this rule gets implemented or not, that will never change. The up-tempo offense is here to stay, and rather than whining about it, and trying to pass ridiculous rules Bret Bielema and the old curmudgeons would be better off studying how the defenses of Stanford, LSU and Oklahoma State have recently locked down some of the highest-flying offenses man has ever seen (sorry late 90's Rams). Offenses aren't the only things that can evolve in football, just ask the 85 Bears. If it's player safety we're really after, implement a mandatory conditioning test. It's time for defenses to evolve past the idea of the 320+ pound defensive lineman with the conditioning level of Wilford Brimley.

Matt Daley:

Personally, I don't care if it gets approved or not. I won't stop watching or enjoying football either way, and I don't believe that either result will create a sea change in how the game is played. However, the "nay" reaction on this proposal has been full of needless hyperbole and, in some cases, hypocrisy. The latter is particularly directed at coaches who decry this but also benefit every day from the seismic rules changes that revolutionized the passing game in the 1970s and 1980s. This isn't the end of the world, and people ought to stop acting as if it is.

Nicolas Lewis:

I think this is a ridiculous rule. Sports has always been about either the offense or the defense finding an advantage, and then exploiting it until their opposite figures out how to compensate. Defensive shifts in baseball, the triangle offense in basketball, and so forth. This process has occurred for decades just fine in an organic manner; the NCAA doesn't need to legislate such changes, let alone ones that are just as (if not more) harmful as they are helpful.

I'm not shocked that Bret Bielema is behind this - he has made his reputation on clock-grinding, smash mouth football, and has now moved to a conference predicated on speed - everywhere, not just in its players. Bielema probably sees offensive acceleration like what Chip Kelly started at Oregon as a gimmick, not a way to advance the game. As Hugh Freeze pointed out, as fast as most teams are they don't actually snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the clock anyway, so the rule as written would never even get enforced, assuming it actually came into existence. NCAA, leave your product alone - it is generating you more revenue than you know what to do with without you meddling.

thechuck_2112 (don't ask):

This proposed rule (which thankfully stands about zero chance of passing) reeks of sour grapes. Great (and even good) offensive and defensive coaches understand that the key to success is exploiting your opponent's weaknesses. The play-action pass works by getting the defense to bite on the run, leaving a receiver open. The 46 defense works by overloading the weak side of the line, disrupting traditional pass-protection schemes. The hurry-up offense similarly exploits a weakness: teams running it are counting on their conditioning being far superior to the defense's, a solid bet when the defense is designed to win a slugfest with big uglies. But defensive coaches around the country have begun to figure out the hurry-up. Just look at Stanford, which held Chip Kelly's vaunted Oregon attack to 14 points in Kelly's last college season. Some coaches, though, don't want to adapt; instead, they insist that football be played only the way they learned it and the way their current schemes will be effective. So they want to change the rules of the game rather than figure out how to stop the hurry-up.

And what's especially galling is that the rule is proposed in the name of player safety. (Because it's a non-rules-change year, the only way a rule can be enacted is if it concerns player safety.) If the coaches behind this were really concerned about player safety, they'd be pushing rules that actually might affect that, like limiting hitting in practice, reconsidering freshman eligibility, or setting an upper limit on player weight. A ten-second moratorium on snapping the ball has nothing to do with safety, but that's the NCAA for you.

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There you have it, the opinions of five of the brightest minds (read: the only people bored enough to actually get upset about this topic) on the Hustle Belt roster. Of course these are just our reactions to the idea, and we're not claiming we're right, or wrong (maybe thechuck is, but anyone with a name like that should be discredited). Let us hear your thoughts on this issue. Do you think this is good for the game? Do some coaches have a legitimate beef with the proposal, or are we all being big baby Bielemas? Let us know in the comment section below.

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