UNC's Fedora, Duke's Cutcliffe outspoken on NCAA proposal limiting football tempo

acarter@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2014 

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UNC coach Larry Fedora questions a penalty against the Tar Heels in the fourth quarter.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— North Carolina coach Larry Fedora is strongly opposed to a proposed NCAA rule change that would slow down college football offenses, and he called it “absurd” that the proposal is being made in the name of player safety.

“I think they are questioning our intelligence with trying to push this under player safety,” Fedora said Friday during a phone interview with The News & Observer. “Because I have not seen any evidence, one way or another, that because of the tempo of play that more people are getting injured.”

Duke coach David Cutcliffe in a teleconference on Friday also spoke out against the proposed change. The NCAA football rules committee this week recommended a change that would allow defenses to substitute during the first 10 seconds of the play clock. In that case, offenses wouldn’t be allowed to begin a play until the play clock reached 29 seconds.

As it stands now, offenses can snap the ball as quickly as they want and defenses are only allowed to substitute if the offense substitutes first. Some coaches, like Alabama’s Nick Saban, have criticized up-tempo offenses and have said they are more dangerous for players.

The rules committee backed that assertion.

“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” Troy Calhoun, Air Force coach and rules committee member, said in a statement. “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.”

According to ESPN.com, Saban, who is not a member of the rules committee, met with its members and voiced his support for the rules change. So did Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, ESPN.com reported. Alabama and Arkansas run more methodical offenses, and both ranked among the slowest-paced teams in the nation.

The proposed change, along with another one that would eliminate a 15-yard penalty for targeting if a player’s ejection isn’t upheld by instant replay, will be discussed March 6 by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel. Fedora said he was “worried” about the proposal.

“I’m worried because it all of a sudden came up and got through the rules committee when none of us knew anything about it,” he said. “So yes, I’m concerned about it. I think that we’re trying to find out now how we feel as a league, with the ACC. I talked to (Duke coach) David Cutcliffe this morning about it, and we’re finding out how the league feels about it so we can get a statement out about how the ACC feels.”

Fedora has built his coaching career on an up-tempo, fast-paced offensive philosophy. UNC last season ran an average of 72.5 plays per game, and his Tar Heels often attempt to begin plays as quickly as possible.

Under Cutcliffe, Duke has also pushed the pace. The Blue Devils also averaged 72.5 plays per game last season. At N.C. State, the Wolfpack ran a faster-paced offense under first-year coach Dave Doeren.

Cutcliffe said he doesn't believe up-tempo offenses cause more injuries. If player safety is the main concern, Cutcliffe said, there are many other potential rule changes that should be considered before taking away a team's competitive edge to play as fast as it pleases.

“If you’re worried about the number of plays in a game overall, we should be looking at number one, how we manage the clock,” he said. “That has significantly changed the NFL game. Number two, I think we would be looking at some other player safety issues.

“One I think we have to look at is blocking below the waist. Officials will tell you that they struggle officiating that, and there are more injuries caused by low blocks and circumstances along those lines than there would be just by rabid play.”

Fedora said he didn’t know exactly how often UNC started a play with more than 29 seconds remaining on the play clock, but he estimated that it happened between 10 and 20 times per game. The proposed rules change would not affect the final two minutes of a half, and offenses would be allowed to begin plays as quickly as possible then.

“Now if you’re just going under the assumption that if you play more plays you have more chance for injury – I agree with that,” Fedora said. “But if you’re going to say this is under player safety, but we’re going to do it in the last two minutes of the game, well then are we saying we’re not concerned with player safety in the last two minutes of the game? I mean, come on. I just don’t get that.”

The NCAA football rules committee is a 12-person panel composed of coaches and officials from levels of college football. Only three members have ties to the FBS, and the committee doesn’t include any representation from the five power conferences.

“When you look at who’s on the panel, there is just a very small representation of FBS programs,” Fedora said. “And again, I think this is one of those situations where you look at we’re being governed by, and rules are being made that will affect our lives and livelihoods by people that necessarily don’t have the same interests.

“And that is a major concern.”

Fedora said he has been in contact with several other coaches who share his concerns. One, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, lambasted the rules proposal during a series of posts on Twitter.

Fedora said he spoke with Gundy “before he went on his Twitter rant” and Fedora said he might take to Twitter, too. At one point Friday, Fedora mocked the proposed change and the notion that it would improve player safety.

“I think you’ve got more chance of players getting hurt if the opposing team has too many five-star players on it,” Fedora said. “So let’s just say one team can only sign two five-star players on its team. How about that?

“You know, or that all linebackers, when they’re going to blitz, they’ve got to raise their hand so that everybody knows that they’re going to blitz – so we have less chance of somebody getting hit. I mean, to me it’s absurd.”

Staff writer Laura Keeley contributed to this report. Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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