Joe Jenkins

Pace Of Play Rule Had A Bad Marketing Plan

Created on Mar. 05, 2014 10:44 PM EST

The more I see and hear about college football's ill-fated "pace of play"  rule, a.k.a. "The Saban Rule," the more I think about Panasonic and their "Internet Pecker" from 1996.

Calm down, take your underoos off for a second and get your mind out of the gutter. This story isn't going where you think it is. The "Internet Pecker" happens to be one of the great marketing blunders of our time.

When Panasonic wanted to broaden their footprint in the home computing market in the 1990s, they developed a touchscreen PC. Which, for those of you living under a rock, was a good 11 years ahead of everybody else, including Steve Jobs. 

The supposed marketing brains behind this PC then decided to market this technological trailblazer by branding it with cartoon icon Woody Woodpecker. 

Panasonic dubbed their new PC the “Woody,” which touted an “Internet Pecker," which was apparently some kind of online support function.

I’m not making any of this up. Feel free to Google it. 

Since you're not reading this on a Panasonic touchscreen phone, I'm guessing you know how this hilarious marketing tragedy turned out.

What started off as a great idea got destroyed simply because Panasonic marketed it all wrong. 

It's exactly why Nick Saban (who supported the rule, but had nothing to do with its creation) is getting raked over the coals when it comes to the "pace of play" debacle: The marketing for the proposed rule was horribly conceived. They went to the “player safety” well one too many times and came up empty. 

I can’t blame them for trying to go that route. Keeping players safe is a hot-button issue at every level of football. (There's another reason as well. More on that later.)

The resulting rules from the player safety push have largely benefited the offensive side of the ball. Targeting rules on quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers have forced defensive personnel to essentially re-learn how to play football while their offensive counterparts continue with business as usual. 

The idea of a defensive back "separating" a receiver from a ball is now inherently attached to a 15-yard targeting penalty and a possible game ejection. Horse-collar tackles are now viewed with the same vitriol as facemask penalties. 

Short of simplifying the “chop block” definition and outlawing wedge blocking on kickoffs, I can’t think of a recent rule that has benefited defense. 

My point isn’t to suggest that any of this is bad — keeping players safer is a good thing — but rather that the path for public acceptance for a rule change was well paved: Waive the player safety public relations flag and the world is your oyster. 

It’s easy to look Saban and Bret Bielema and say they’re just dinosaurs looking to hang on to a brand of football that’s slowly dying. 

The reality is they’re defensive coaches that are sick and tired of watching the rulebook continually tilt the game away from their favor. 

Defensive units always have been at an inherent disadvantage by having to react to an offense that already knows what it's going to do. Rule changes in the last few decades, from stiffer pass interference rules to the changes made for player safety, have only widened an offensive coordinator's strategic stranglehold on the game. 

Isn’t it remotely possible that Saban and Bielema supported the rule because they were merely trying to get one back?

The idea that Saban was behind this rule because of some sense of entitlement is laughable. Saban doesn't need the NCAA's help to win at Alabama. He's beaten his opponents 84 percent of the time and has three BCS championships since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. 

So why the big song and dance about player safety?

From a logistical standpoint, they had to. Every other year in college football (including 2014), rules changes are only put to a vote if they are safety-based. From a public relations standpoint, rules couched in player safety have a great track record of being adopted. 

The good news is the rules committee shot the rule down for the time being. It will be at least another year before we have to deal with proposed changes to “pace of play." 

Let’s just hope coaches supporting any kind of rule change go to market with their idea in a smarter fashion next time. 

We don’t need another “Internet pecker” on our hands.

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