The NCAA Football Rules Committee has proposed a new rule that could potentially slow down Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes, at least in certain circumstances. The Rules Committee has suggested a change that would prevent offenses from snapping the ball until the play clock reaches 29 seconds. The thinking, they say, is centered around safety, and allowing the defense to make substitutions before any play.
The official press release from the NCAA describes their reasoning as follows:
The committee discussed the issue thoroughly before coming to the conclusion that defensive teams should be allowed some period of time to substitute. The committee believes that 10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock. This rules proposal also aligns with a request from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that sport rules committees review substitution rules in regards to player safety.
The normal play clock gives a team 40 seconds to set up and run a play, but in today's game, many teams like to push the pace, occasionally snapping the ball even before 10 seconds have elapsed. This new NCAA rule would at least put a hard and fast speed limit to the hurry up offense, which could impact Ohio State, a team that has been known to occasionally rush a play to get an advantage during a drive.
Additionally, the new rule would award a 5-yard penalty or a delay of game penalty to a team that snaps the ball before the 29 second mark -- except in the final two minutes of each half. The proposed rule would have to be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee, and if approved on March 6th the new rule would be implemented this coming season.
The current rules state that defensive players are not guaranteed the opportunity to substitute unless the offense first substitutes. Under the new rule, this would only remain in place during scenarios where the play clock starts at 25 seconds.This is why many teams use the "no huddle" approach, to wear down their opponents and take advantage of them being tired, or at least, not schematically suited for a particular play or formation. While Ohio State hasn't been a devotee of pushing the pace at all costs, like a Texas Tech, Cal or a BYU, it is a tool that is occasionally used.
But even accounting for those teams, which recorded the three highest total number of plays per game in the country this past fall, it's tough to see what the rule change's desired impact is. None of the three (nor oft tempo associated Oregon) regularly snapped the ball faster than 10 seconds this past season. Despite their occasional propensity to go uptempo themselves, Ohio State's play totals on the year weren't even in the same ballpark as those sorts of offenses, ranking 71st in plays per game at 72.8.
What's interesting is who is actually on the Rules Committee. In a move that would surprise exactly zero college football fans, the coaches that seem to be pushing the rule are those who don't run hurry up offenses, including one foil familiar to all Buckeye fans:
Text from a coach on new rules proposal: "the 2 coaches on the rules committee were 84th & 106th in plays run last year. C'mon man."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 12, 2014
ToddBerry told me clock proposal took up most of discussion past 2 days. AFCA rep Bret Bielema also involved. (Hogs were 118th in plays run)— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 13, 2014
If two of the committee members are coaches of teams who occupied the bottom of the rankings in plays per game (84th & 106th), and an additional coach whose team ranked 118th is in support of the rule, is the main interest of the committee really the health of the players? Sports Illustrated asked some medical experts, and while they agree that tempo might have a health impact, there isn't enough data to prove it right now.
According to Feldman, Coach Hugh Freeze would like to see medical documentation backing up the committees reasoning, but ULM's Todd Berry, member of the rules committee, assures that the reasoning is that by common sense. Even if the rule would increase player safety, is that really why some coaches are pushing for it? Or are they simply looking for a competitive edge that would give them an advantage over their opponents. Many find it skeptical that coaches who don't support fast paced offenses at their own programs are completely on board for this new ruling.
One coach who spoke with CBS Sports didn't exactly hide his contempt for the proposal:
"It's terrible, and it's terrible in how they've tried to sneak this through," said one head coach. "Nobody knew this was coming. I've read what (NCAA rules committee member) Todd Berry said (to CBS) about the 10 seconds and how it won't make much of a difference, but they're just trying to downplay it publicly because what they're really doing is giving defense a chance now to substitute liberally once the offense gets an advantage.
"This stuff about it's a safety issue is complete BS that they're trying to hide behind. Show us some proof that more guys -- offense and defense -- have been getting hurt. They can't do it because there is no proof."
It is almost certain that coaches who do utilize an upbeat offense don't think too highly of the potential new ruling. Here's what the former coach of TTUN and the current head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, Rich Rod, had to say about the new rule proposal:
So I hear the football rules committee wants to slow the game down and make you wait ten seconds to snap--and penalty is delay of game!#wow— Rich Rodriguez (@CoachRodAZ) February 12, 2014
When you snap the ball has always been a fundamental edge for the offense- what's next-- 3 downs like Canada?#LetsGetBoring— Rich Rodriguez (@CoachRodAZ) February 12, 2014
Even if some of the slower paced college coaches are in favor of changing the rules to give them an advantage, passage of the rule is by no means a sure thing. Coaches (and commissioners) of higher paced programs will likely fight it tooth and nail, and it would be unlikely for a major change to happen without more data to support it.
Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on. Any time a rule change could potentially change the way Ohio State, and others, situationally play, it's big news.
Matt Brown contributed to this report