On Wednesday, the 12-man NCAA rules committee produced significant college football rule changes. By Friday, many head coaches, including Duke’s David Cutcliffe, had spoken out against them.
The proposal that has drawn the most backlash is one that would slow down up-tempo offenses, forcing teams to wait 10 seconds before they snap the ball to allow for defensive substitutions (so an offense couldn’t snap the ball until there were 29 seconds left on the play clock). This slow-down would be waived for the final two minutes of each half. (For the record, I haven’t seen anyone upset about taking away the 15-yard penalty for targeting if a player ejection is overturned after a review).
Andrew Carter detailed UNC coach Larry Fedora’s reaction, along with a few thoughts from Cutcliffe here. Below is a more in-depth look at what Cutcliffe told reporters on a Friday teleconference.
Cutcliffe was most concerned with the fact that he and every other coach he has spoken with (he estimated it was between 12-15 just today, from both coasts and most conferences) had no idea this proposal was coming.
"We felt blindsided by this," Cutcliffe said. "I had heard it before, obviously, but I had no idea it was on the table. We did not discuss this in the (FBS) head coaches’ meeting at the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) convention in Indianapolis. It was not even on the agenda.
"We will always be about supporting what’s best for the players, and also I’m a believer in democracy where the majority rules," Cutcliffe said. "I don’t know that that’s occurred in this. I would be more inclined to say this needs a lot of look at and a lot of study before moving forward."
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.
"We’ve had to play from behind and win games in the fourth quarter. We’ve been two scores down and still in a game with eight minutes left. I want to go as fast as I want to go from a competitive standpoint when we need to. We already have a rule in place that if an offense substitutes, at that point and time the defensive coaches have what they say is, quote, a reasonable amount of time to respond."
There would not be a mandatory 10-second wait to snap the ball in the last two minutes of each half—a fact Cutcliffe pointed out as running against the alleged idea of safety.
"If it’s player safety, I don’t understand why it would be okay to change the rhythm of the game in the two-minute period," he said.
Instead, Cutcliffe agreed with the idea that the rule proposal is more about a preferred coaching philosophy than actual player safety. Teams that tend to play ahead and prefer to run the ball anyway would succeed in shortening the game if this rule was passed.
Still, what bothers Cutcliffe most is the way this proposal came out of nowhere, a suggestion handed down from a 12-person football rules committee that was not discussed in a room full of FBS coaches at the annual convention.
"We talked abut everything imaginable that was on the agenda or around the corner or really a great need as we move forward with the game, to try to protect the game and the players of the game and the professionals, and this was never brought up," Cutcliffe said. None of us knew this was on the docket.
"You would think if this was something that was going to be moved to a vote by the football rules committee that directly affects every one of us in the coaching profession that it would have been put on the docket."
Alabama.com’s Jon Solomon details who, exactly, is on the rules committee (no one from the five major conferences and a bunch of people who play at a slower tempo than that national average). ESPN has also reported that Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’s Bret Bielema tried to influence the committee’s recommendation to slow down the game. Last year’s Arkansas ran 64.7 plays per game against FBS competition, ranking 121 out of 125 FBS teams in terms of pace of play. Alabama ran 65.9, 116th nationally.
Duke ran 73.5 plays per game against FBS opponents, good for the 65th fastest pace nationally.