Malzahn Wants 'Healthy Debate' On Rule Change
By Dan Harralson
A rule proposal limiting hurry-up, no-huddle offenses took college football by surprise last week, and Auburn's Gus Malzahn is one coach who isn't happy about it.
Malzahn, whose Tigers run a high-octane offense designed to rattle off plays quickly without allowing defenses to adjust, said that more debate should take place before the NCAA adopts a rule that will dramatically affect how the game is played.
He pointed out that because this is not a rule-change year under NCAA guidelines, any change can only be made to protect the health and safety of players. "And there’s absolutely zero documented evidence that [pace of play] is hazardous, only opinions," he said.
When Malzahn met with the media Tuesday for the first time since last week's proposal, he asked for a "healthy debate" on the topic.
“I’ve been running a fast-paced offense since 1997 and I’ve never felt like it was a health and safety issue [on either side of the ball],” he said.
The proposal is designed to protect players, an issue that continues to hover over the sport. The new rule would require offenses to wait 10 seconds before snapping the ball, allowing defenses time to substitute. Snapping the ball quicker would result in a five-yard penalty for delay of game. Aside from the irony that playing too quickly would result in delay of game, the rule clearly is designed to throttle no-huddle offenses popularized by Oregon, Auburn and many other programs.
Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, NCAA committee chairman, recently addressed the reasoning behind the proposal.
“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," he said. "As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years. We felt it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”
But Calhoun did a flip-flop worthy of a seasoned politician just one week later.
"I think the only way it can or it should become a rule is if indeed it is a safety concern," he told Yahoo Sports. "That can't be something that is speculation or a possibility. I think there's got to be something empirical there, where you realize, yes, this truly is a health matter in terms of not being able to get a defensive player off the field."
In another interview with the Associated Press, he said, "If there is something that surfaces where there is legitimate concern, now you're talking about some responsibility that's involved."
So which is it? Don't be embarrassed if you're confused. You're not alone.
Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas's Bret Bielema support the rule proposal, which is expected to be passed on March 6. Both were in attendance for the rules meeting last week in Indianapolis. Clearly, Saban's considerable clout gives it a greater chance of passing.
But before a new rule is enacted, the committee should thoroughly dissect the matter. Deciding on such a drastic change to the sport in such a short time seems unreasonable.