Even NCAA Can't Slow Down Oregon Ducks
By John Baker
When word trickled out last week that the NCAA was looking at a proposed rule change that would require offenses to wait 10 seconds to snap the ball, eyes turned immediately to several fast-paced offenses around the country, most notably here — the Oregon Ducks.
While big number-producing offenses have been around awhile, the Ducks have taken the model to new levels, using their fast-paced play-calling as a weapon to cause fatigue and create opportunities against defenses. Not only has it provided Oregon with great success, but it has become a national calling card to recruits. Oregon offers opportunity to young players because the Ducks like to rotate fresh bodies — hence the chance to play quickly is available.
And since safety as it relates to fatigue is one of the prime driving forces of this proposal, one has to ask: if the Ducks do it on both sides of the ball, why can’t everyone else?
But common sense and a willingness to think outside the box is not nearly as prevalent within the realm of the NCAA or college coaches as they like to pretend. You’ve got old-school coaches like Nick Saban decrying the use of fast-paced offenses and certainly lending their support to a rule that is not only ridiculous, but unneeded.
Fast-paced offenses manage to substitute and get plays called just fine. Why can’t defenses do the same?
The truth of the matter is, the onus will not be on offenses like Oregon’s if this rule is adopted. It will be on the referees. When a play finishes, the refs get a new football placed and ready for another snap. Usually a good 10 seconds or more have elapsed — plenty of time for coaches to assess down and distance, call a play and even substitute. Even Oregon takes longer to take a snap than that, often lining up quickly, then looking at the sideline for play calls or changes.
It’s fun for the players, the fans love it and, as Oregon has demonstrated, it can produce marvelous results.
The safety argument carries no weight here as Oregon has demonstrated perfectly how the system works: play more players and condition them better. It’s funny that Saban would lament the development of fast-paced offenses considering Alabama has stockpiles of players with talent just waiting in the wings for a chance to play. Under former coach Chip Kelly, Oregon developed an “up next” mentality toward creating and nurturing depth.
What bothers coaches is that they don’t like seeing their best players come off the field for extended time because they’re gassed. They don’t care about developing depth, per se, they care about winning and if they can keep their best players on the field for more snaps, that’s what they want. Playing against an offense like Oregon’s forces your hand in terms of substitutions and conditioning, something coaches don’t like one bit. Funny thing, Stanford and Arizona played the Ducks straight up and seemed to have no problems or major injuries.
The injury argument is about as thin as the NCAA’s supposed devotion to the term student-athlete. Coaches don’t want to adapt to dealing with spread out, fast-paced offenses in the only sensible manner you can. Coach kids to be multi-positional rather than specialized, recruit slightly smaller, more athletic defenders, condition them more effectively, build depth and get players rest during games.
The way to counteract the potential for injury when there are more offensive snaps is by smart substitutions. A player obviously reeling from fatigue needs to come out, period. The guy who comes in may not be quite as good, but that’s the nature of substitution. It works in basketball, hockey and other sports.
Unfortunately, while the Ducks are innovative and willing to explore new concepts, there are many who don’t. They win with the status quo and they like it that way.
How will the new rule, if passed, affect the Ducks? It won’t. The game would pause for a while, but the truth is the Ducks would line up as they always have, get the play call and once the clock hits 29, run wild again.
Oregon will do what it been doing for the last eight years: adapt, innovate and overcome barriers, whether that's a tough defense or a silly NCAA rule designed to slow them down. That’s the Oregon mentality.
There is no data that supports a “less plays equals safety” hypothesis and no consensus on what a “safe” number of plays in a game might be. It’s a rule proposal that seems to be based on feeling rather than data.
There is still much to be discussed and no guarantee this will pass. There are big players on the opposing side like Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez. They, like Kelly and now Mark Helfrich at Oregon, see the positive change that playing fast has created in the sport.
Football has always changed, always evolved. From the wing-T to the run-and-shoot, coaches have always sought ways to leverage players and concepts for their competitive advantage. Remember the wish bone offense? Defenses eventually caught up to the wish bone and now the style of offense is no longer "en vogue."
Oregon has done just that at a level that other programs are now trying to copy. Now, as is always the case in the game, the defenses need to respond with some creativity of their own.
Whining to the NCAA to slow the game down is not that solution. It’s bad for the fans, bad for the increased number of players who get on the field and bad for the game as a whole. Oregon and its increasing national presence and rabid fans have demonstrated just how much fun being fast can be.
Why this lust to slow things down? It’s just a waste of time.