On Wednesday in his annual spring meeting with sportswriters who cover Alabama football on a daily…
Saban Not Seeking Defensive Edge
"I'm not trying to create an advantage for the defense," said Alabama Coach Nick Saban Wednesday. "I don't think we even need an advantage. Why do we need an advantage? If you look at the statistics, we've been playing better than most."
Alabama has ranked at or near the top in all defensive categories for the past six years, a primary reason the Crimson Tide has won three national championships and had a record of 72-9 (an average of 12 wins per season).
Saban has been in the middle of what should be a fairly mundane issue, but which has created an off-season firestorm in college football rules discussions. No doubt, part of the reason for the heightened diatribe is Saban being the most recognized man in college football and him being on the unpopular side of the issue.
The hottest trend in college (and high school) football is the hurry-up, no-huddle. College football has two clocks, a 40-second clock that begins running as soon as a play ends, and a 25-second clock that begins when the ball is marked ready for play. A proposal from the football rules committee, which may or may not make it to (much less through) the NCAA rules committee, is that it should be impermissible for the ball to be snapped until the 40-second clock reaches 29.
And while denying seeking an edge for the defense, Saban pointed out why proponents of the fast-paced, no-huddle offenses want to be able to play their game.
"But it is an advantage to go fast, and I can understand exactly why coaches who go fast want to do it,"Saban said. "It's an advantage. There's no question. And it's really who's creating a competitive advantage, then."
Saban didn't leave it with opinion. He presented facts, beginning with how he happened to become involved.
"I had nothing to do with the 10-second rule," he said. "I was asked by the rules committee and the officials to come and speak to the rules committee relative to pace of play. Were there play safety issues involved in that and is there a game administrative problem with that?
"So I went and did that. I didn't vote on the committee. I didn't offer any solutions to the problems. I just gave my opinion, but presented a lot statistical data that would support the fact that pace of play is creating a lot longer games and a lot more plays in games.
"Now I know a lot of you say there's no statistical information that says if you play 88 plays in the game you have a better chance to get hurt if you play 65 plays in a game. Over 12 games that 250 plays, approximately. That's four games more that you are playing.
"So everything we've ever done in the NCAA has been to limit exposure. So we cut back spring practice. We say you've got to practice in shorts. We say you have to practice so many days in shells. In fall camp, we cut back how many days you can practice in pads, how many scrimmages we can have. So many acclimation days. Can't have consecutive two-a-days.
"We have all these rules to limit exposure.
"But the data says there are seven players who get hurt in the game to every one that gets hurt in practice. That's a fact.
"Okay, we are going to limit practice, which is exactly what the NFL did last year to no avail helping injuries. They actually had more injuries, I think, when everybody is getting hurt in the game. Not everybody, but 7-to-1. The game is longer and more plays. And the pace of the game is faster.
"I'm just one that doesn't think that the officials should not control the pace of the game. That's what I think.
"That's a player safety issue, too. To me football was not intended to be a continuous game. Soccer is, rugby is. Football was never intended to be that. Football has been played for a long time, and there's always a little bit between plays because of the physical nature and the contact that's involved.
"There's actually a study of Virginia Tech players who played 61 plays in a game, eight players over 10 games. How may sub-conconcussive hits did they get to their head in each game?
"Well, if you took another team that goes no-huddle and averages 88 plays a game instead of 61 plays a game, how many sub-concussive hits would they get? Is it wrong to assume that the right tackle and the five-technique aren't going to hit that many more plays in the game, or are they going to get out of each other's way?
"I personally think it is a player safety issue.
"We are the only game that the college game is longer than the pro game. An NBA game is longer than a college basketball game.
"In the NFL the lowest team averages 59 plays, the highest team in the 70s – 75, 72, I don't know what it is for sure. And in college, the lowest team is like 62 plays a game and the highest team is 90. Not only are there more plays in college, there is a greater deviation in the plays [from lowest number to highest].
"So how do you prepare the player to play the different kind of games he's going to play in and what does that do to him in practice and what is the cumulative effect of that.
"In the NFL all the official does is stand over the ball until the officials are ready to call the game. That's all they do.
"Saying all that to say this: The reason they came up with the 10-second rule – which I had nothing to do with – was the fact they used to stand over the ball for 10 to 12 seconds when we had a 25-second clock before they chopped the clock to start the 25-second clock. So they figured why not do the same thing with the 40-second clock.
"And when they actually studied the no-huddle teams, they only snap the ball an average of four times a game inside of 10 seconds. So you're not really affecting how they play.
"But what keeps you from ever being able to take a defensive player out – whether he's hurt, pre-existing condition, whatever it is – is the fact that they MIGHT snap the ball. So you can't do anything. You can call time out to get a guy out. If you tell a guy to get down, it's really against the rules...and they boo him out of the park."