After three weeks of controversy, the NCAA Football Rules Committee has withdrawn a rule proposal that would have slowed down hurry-up offenses.
In a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, the 12-member committee voted unanimously not to send the proposal forward to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, chair of the rules committee, said the members paid attention to an overwhelming wave of comments from head coaches and conference commissioners throughout every division of college football.
The proposal would have required a 10-second delay before offenses could snap the football, allowing defenses time to substitute. The stated reason of the rules committee was safety, saying it was logical that with more plays, players were at greater risk of injury.
The rules committee received 324 official comments through the NCAA's web site. Seventy-four percent of commenters were against the proposal, 16% favored it and the rest were undecided. "This was a blowback," Rogers Redding, the NCAA's coordinator of football officiating and the committee's secretary-rules editor, told USA TODAY Sports. "Just the number of people that commented told you this was something."
The Playing Rules Oversight Panel was scheduled to consider any rule changes on Thursday.
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"This is a victory for common sense and protecting the game of football," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told USA TODAY Sports.
As expected, the rules committee forwarded a tweak to the existing targeting rule to the oversight panel. If targeting is overturned by replay review – overturning an automatic ejection – a 15-yard penalty will no longer be assessed.
In addition, the committee introduced a proposal similar to the NFL's "Tom Brady rule" to penalize players for hitting a passer below the knee. The proposal will enter an official comment period before going to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.
If the targeting and low-hit proposals are approved, they would take effect for the 2014 season. The controversial 10-second rule proposal won't. Calhoun said evidence of injury risk is needed before it could be reconsidered.
Coaches who play fast-paced offenses were vocal in their opposition to the rule proposal. Several told USA TODAY Sports they were caught unaware by the announcement of the proposal Feb. 12. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said there was "absolutely zero evidence" of a greater risk of injury.
A survey of 128 FBS head coaches last week by ESPN found overwhelming opposition to the proposal. Ninety-three (73.5 percent) of coaches were opposed; 24 (19.5 percent) were in favor; nine (seven percent) were undecided.
According to the NCAA process, this is considered an off-year for rules changes; the only way a new football playing rule could be adopted in 2014 is if it is safety-based.
"It had to be solely focused on the safety part rather than the tactical part," Calhoun, who said the perception that the rule was motivated by competitive concerns was incorrect, told USA TODAY Sports. "(Those are) two separate things. They bleed over, or one impacts the other, or they could."
Coaches opposed to the proposal suggested other possible motives, including a philosophical divide over how football should be played. They noted the participation of Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Alabama's Nick Saban – who have both been vocal about the trend toward ever-faster pace – in the rules committee discussions before the proposal was initially approved.
At the time the proposal was announced, Sumlin called it "an attempt to limit the creativity of the game." South Carolina's Steve Spurrier called it "the Saban Rule", suggesting his counterpart was simply attempting to advance his own aims.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez called the rule "ridiculous", saying: "It's a fundamental rule of football that the offense has two advantages: knowing where they're going and when they're going. The defense has one advantage: they can move all 11 guys before the snap.
"What's next, are you gonna go to three downs rather than four downs? It's silly."
The debate devolved in that direction, too.
On Monday, Arizona's official Twitter account released a video parody of the movie "Speed," in which Rodriguez said, "I think there's some coaches that have a hidden agenda. … They're holding college football for ransom. … People want to see action. They don't want to see huddles, people holding hands and singing kumbaya."
In a text message, Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports the video "might be a little over the top but it only took an hour of my time!"
Last week, Saban told reporters, "I don't necessarily have an opinion on the 10-second rule." But he added his primary concern was safety and reiterated a question he had asked before: "Was football intended to be a continuous game?"
As the liaison from the American Football Coaches Association, Bielema participated in the NCAA Football Rules Committee's discussion of the proposal, but did not vote. He also said his concern was safety.
Asked by reporters for evidence of increased injury risk, he pointed to "death certificates" and pointed to the recent death of a Cal football player in an offseason conditioning workout. A day later, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour rebuked Bielema in a tweet, calling the comments "beyond insenstive." Soon after, Bielema issued a statement of clarification.
The football rules committee is made up of coaches and administrators from all levels of the NCAA. Calhoun and Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry are the only FBS-level coaches on the committee. The 11-member Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which gives final approval for rule proposals in all sports, is made up of administrators and conference officials.
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