Warszawski: Slowing down college football? Not so fast, DeRuyter says

The Fresno BeeFebruary 13, 2014 

Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter -- answering questions during a news conference to announce the Bulldogs' 2014 recruiting class on Feb. 5, 2014 -- says a proposed NCAA rule that would prevent offenses from snapping the ball during the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock to allow defensive units time to substitute players "degrades the game."

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Starting next season in college football, teams that play too fast could get flagged for delay of game.

Which makes no sense whatsoever. Except, it seems, to the NCAA Football Rules Committee.

The proliferation of up-tempo, no-huddle offenses has made the sport more exciting than ever -- more snaps, more points, more zaniness -- but a proposed rule change purportedly for player safety appears to have the real aim of slowing ... things ... down.

Under the proposal, defenses would be allowed to substitute on every play during the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. And offenses that snap the ball before the clock reads "29" would be assessed a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.

Currently, defenses can substitute only on plays when the offense also substitutes. The new rule would be in effect until the final 2 minutes of each half.

Coaches who employ no-huddle offenses are furious over the proposal. None more so than those who have their offices on Bulldog Lane.

Fresno State under Tim DeRuyter has been one of the fastest-operating outfits in the country -- and would be among the most affected if the proposal goes through.

"I think it degrades the game," DeRuyter said Thursday. "I think it artificially changes the way we operate, and I don't understand the reason we're doing it."

The reason, again purportedly, is player safety. Before last season, both Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema complained that no-huddle offenses left defensive players more susceptible to injury.

Saban and Bielema, it should be noted, are coaches with defensive backgrounds who employ a grind-it-out philosophy on offense. So they're not exactly unbiased. But evidently, their pleas were heard by the NCAA Football Rules Committee chaired by Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.

"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," Calhoun 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."

Far be it from me to doubt Calhoun's sincerity, but I suspect there are ulterior motives.

So does DeRuyter.

"I think there are certain coaches who haven't had the answers to uptempo offenses, and this is their answer," he said.

"My philosophy is if the offense hasn't changed personnel, why should the defense have the opportunity to change personnel and use substitutions to slow the game down? I don't understand that way of thinking."

No conference in the FBS plays fast-forward football more often than the Mountain West. Of the league's 12 teams, eight of them ranked among the top 30 in the country last season in offensive plays per game.

According to footballstats.com, Fresno State led the MW and ranked No. 4 in the nation by averaging 85.4 plays per game against FBS opponents. Only Texas Tech (90.3), BYU (89.9) and Cal (88.7) ripped off more.

Most of the MW isn't far behind that pace. Hawaii ranked eighth in the country in plays per game, followed by Nevada (ninth), Boise State (15th), San Jose State (18th), Utah State (22nd), UNLV (24th) and Wyoming (30th).

Where does Calhoun's Air Force team appear on that list? Way, way down near the bottom: 104th out of 125.

Hmm ...

It's as if the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" has morphed into "If you can't keep up with 'em, slow 'em."

DeRuyter said the issue was discussed last month in Indianapolis during a meeting of the American Football Coaches Association rules committee, of which he is a member.

"We debated this, and I didn't think we came to any consensus this was something that we were going to push forward," DeRuyter said.

The proposal still must pass muster from the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to meet in March.

Let's just hope someone requires its proponents to present evidence that a faster pace of play results in more injuries.

"I'd like to see the data where it says playing uptempo football is more unsafe," Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. "Show me the data."

Actually, the only thing I could dig up indicated the exact opposite. According to a study by www.cfbmatrix.com, the top 20 slowest teams in terms of pace of play were shown to have lost more starts due to injury during the 2012 season than the 20 fastest.

If any coach could appreciate guaranteed substitutions, you'd think it would be a defensive coordinator. But Fresno State's Nick Toth hates the proposal too, calling it an "excuse" for coaches who "don't know how to defend spread offenses."

"If you're concerned about player injuries, then you should look at other things like blocks below the waist," Toth said. "That's the real safety issue."

This isn't really about safety, either. It's about slowing ... things ... down for teams that can't keep pace with college football's new tempo.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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