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A controversial rules proposal to slow down college football's hurry-up offenses has been tabled after overwhelming opposition. Proponents of fast football can celebrate -- as they did Wednesday, when Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin proclaimed "a victory for common sense and protecting the game of football."
But the debate over how fast college football should be played isn't finished -- in part because others insist it's only common sense that more plays leads to a risk of more injuries.
Never mind that the specific rule was shelved and might not come back. Or that up-tempo coaches suspected something other than safety was behind the idea of requiring a 10-second delay before offenses could snap the football. Whatever the motive, coaches who want to slow things down aren't backing down.
Nick Saban, for example, made his points last month to the rules committee. And even as the Alabama coach has distanced himself from the specific proposal that his counterpart Steve Spurrier dubbed the Saban rule, he has continued to push the idea that it's only common sense: More plays mean more chances to get hurt.
There probably is a comeback to Saban's point being formulated right now, maybe by those creative video guys at Arizona (if you haven't seen Rich Rodriguez in the Wildcats' parody of Speed, it's time to search YouTube).
But the larger point: This isn't even close to over.
We're in for more arguments, from smart to silly and everything in between. At some point, someone might even compile empirical data.
This year, because of an NCAA procedural policy, the rule could be instituted only for safety reasons. Next year, that's not the case. Auburn's Gus Malzahn called last month for a year of "healthy debate." Well, that's what he's going to get. Not necessarily just focused on health.
"Going forward into the rules process next year, certainly that conversation can take place around pace of play, balance between an offense and a defense," Rogers Redding, the NCAA's coordinator of officiating and secretary-rules editor of the Football Rules Committee, told USA TODAY Sports. "Those kinds of things are always on the table."
Idea of delay not new
They were on the table a year ago, too. In 2013, the rules committee debated but didn't pass a proposal that would have instituted a mandatory 15-second delay to allow substitutions after first downs. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, a non-voting member of the rules committee as a liaison from the American Football Coaches Association, referred to the idea last summer while contending football was trending too fast.
More recently, Bielema, a champion of what he calls "Normal American Football" and a proponent of the 10-second proposal, was criticized for pointing to "death certificates" as an example of data showing an up-tempo style of play is unsafe. He was referring to the recent death of a University of California player after an offseason workout, not in-season game action. But he's clearly passionate about the idea that up-tempo football has increased injury risks.
Last summer at Southeastern Conference media days, Bielema got into a back-and-forth on the issue through the media with Malzahn.
At the same event, Saban asked, "Should we allow football to be a continuous game? Is that the way the game was designed to be?"
For the coaches who have redesigned the game, the answer is an emphatic "yes." As Rodriguez said in the parody video, "People want to see action. They don't want to see huddles, people holding hands and singing Kumbaya."
In less controversial news, the football rules committee forwarded a tweaked targeting rule to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel. If targeting is overturned by a replay official -- overturning an ejection -- the 15-yard penalty will no longer be assessed. The committee also introduced a proposal similar to the NFL's "Tom Brady" rule to penalize players for hitting a passer below the knee.
That proposal must enter an official comment period before going to the oversight panel.
Whatever anyone thinks about that idea, it's unlikely to draw anything close to the level of interest as the 10-second delay proposal did.
The proposal was withdrawn on a unanimous vote because of what Redding called "blowback," both unofficially in vocal opposition by Sumlin and others and, more important, through the official comment process.
The rules committee received 324 comments from head coaches and commissioners at all levels of college football, with 74% opposed to the proposal, 16% in favor and the rest undecided.
"Just the number of people that commented told you this was something," Redding said.
facing more flopping?
Although Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, chairman of the rules committee, voted Wednesday along with the other members to withdraw the proposal, he said the committee was motivated solely by safety concerns. He remains concerned.
"The No. 1 thing," Calhoun said, "is just medically getting a little more time to try to find out if there is or was a safety concern."
In the interim, we might -- this was suggested Wednesday -- be in for more flopping.
Faking injuries is universally panned as unethical, but it is a tactic that has been at least occasionally used to slow down offenses.
Mark Lewis, the NCAA's executive vice president for championships and alliances, emphasized that an injury timeout already exists.
"The important thing," Lewis said, "is if a player is injured they need to turn to a referee and say 'I'm injured' and take a knee. We're not saying (in withdrawing the proposal) to play hurt."
Lewis said the organization's Sports Science Institute, led by chief medical officer Brian Hainline, would work with member schools' medical personnel "to do a better job, because we have the resources now, of gathering the data and really letting the discussion be guided by the facts."
When we might get those, and what they might be, is anyone's guess. Both sides think common sense backs their respective claims.
Which means despite the demise of the 10-second proposal, the debate -- Normal American Football vs. the Hurry-Up No-Huddle -- might just be getting started.