Bielema: Change of pace essential

By: Troy Schulte
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema reacts to a play during an NCAA college football game against Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema reacts to a play during an NCAA college football game against Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)

SEARCY - Bret Bielema stood his ground Thursday night.

The Arkansas coach addressed publicly for the first time the pace-of-play proposal that has become one of the hottest topics in college football.

Bielema has been an outspoken opponent of hurry-up offenses and a supporter of a proposal by the NCAA Football Rules Committee that would require offenses to allow 10 seconds to run off the play clock so defenses can make substitutions before the ball is snapped.

Speaking to a handful of reporters Thursday night before addressing the White County Razorback Club at Searcy High School, Bielema didn’t back down from his support of the proposal even though he didn’t express much confidence in getting it passed.

Bielema said opponents of the rule - many of whom are coaches who run hurry-up, no-huddle offenses - are “turning a blind eye to the fact” that possible injuries or even deaths could result if something isn’t done to limit the pace of the game.

When asked what evidence exists that more plays could lead to such extremes, Bielema was blunt.

“Death certificates,” he replied. “There’s no more anything I need than that.”

Bielema referenced the death of California defensive end Ted Agu, who died Feb. 7 during an offseason conditioning workout. CBSSports.com reported that Agu tested positive for the sickle cell trait. Bielema said six players on his team also share that trait.

“We have players that are in that same situation,” he said. “If one of those players is on the field for me, I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game, if he raises his hand to come out of the game and I can’t do it, what am I supposed to do?”

The proposal has been met with considerable criticism since first being brought to light last week, with the strongest coming from coaches who run some of college football’s most fast-paced offenses.

Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez told CBSSports.com the rule change came from those who don’t want to play hurry-up offenses.

“They’re trying to eliminate it from the game,” he said. “The reason given is player safety. C’mon, you think their guys aren’t getting hurt going against the power [offenses] in practice?”

South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier referred to it as the “Saban rule” in an interview with USA Today in reference to Alabama Coach Nick Saban addressing the rules committee about the proposed rule change.

Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun, chairman of the rules committee, said during a conference call with reporters earlier this week that the rule should pass only if there is a legitimate threat to player safety but that there is currently no data to support that claim.

“I think it’s got to be pretty resounding [in favor of the proposal],” Calhoun said. “Otherwise it makes no sense to push the rule forward.”

Bielema said Thursday that he would like to see the proposal passed this year. He was asked twice if he thought it would be passed, and both times he would only say that as a past member of the rules committee he had never seen a rule regarding player safety fail to pass.

“We don’t make popular decisions,” said Bielema, referencing last year’s targeting rule. “That [rule] changed the game in a positive way, and I don’t see why we should stop doing that.”

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn told Al.com earlier this week that he would like the issue tabled until next year, which would allow time for more hard evidence to be explored regarding the claims that playing faster leads to more injuries.

In response, Bielema referenced the number of snaps his teams recorded in games against teams that run up-tempo offenses, such as Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Arkansas’ defense played 61 snaps in an October loss at Alabama. Arkansas’ defense actually saw fewer plays, 55, in a loss to Auburn but 74 against Texas A&M and 76 against Ole Miss.

“You’re playing more snaps,” Bielema said. “So one will tell you, without being toomuch of a mathematical genius, as you have more snaps, those chances [of injury] are going to go up.”

Bielema was reminded Thursday that if a team does not have a timeout, time will be allowed for a team to replace an injured player with another player. That could lead to players faking injuries to stop the clock. Bielema said the proposal would prevent that.

“If we want to get to the point to where we’re flopping on the ground like somebody did against us this year, then that’s what you’re going to force people to do,” Bielema said. “If a kid wants to come out of the game because he can’t go any further, then they’ve given us no other choice.”

Sports, Pages 20 on 02/21/2014

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