If We Can’t Deal with It, We Can Just Change the Rules

 

When I was a kid playing sandlot ball, there was always some kid who, if he did not like the play, would say in a plaintiff voice, “Hey!  That’s not fair!”  And if the football belonged to him and the “unfairness” continued, he might just pick up the ball and leave.

I was reminded of that as a parable when I read of the recent proposed actions by the NCAA Football Rules Committee.  They are in a year which is not designated as a “rules-change year”, which means that the only changes to football rules which can be implemented have to do with “player safety”.

That makes good sense.

Hence one of the rule “amendments” being considered has to do with the targeting/ejection rule and implementation.  The proposal would remove the 15-yard penalty for a targeting violation if the replay official over-rules the violation called on the field.  Presently, if the player is not ejected, the 15-yard penalty stays in place – something akin to the arbitrary edicts of the Red Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonder Land.

But, no matter, the “rational”, if not vindictive, logic of the cabal of rules crafters, wanted to make some kind of statement about targeting.   What has puzzled me, nevertheless, is that when I played and coached eons ago, there was a rule called “spearing” which eerily pre-dated the current targeting rules, and in many instances, uses the same phrases and “rationale”.  So, why did we need a new name for an old and illegal practice?  I look to the “PC” gallery for justification there – too much light on and heat for concussion injuries.

Then, the august body of gridiron legislation turned its wise and learned eyes to a rising phenomenon in football – the “up-tempo” offense.  You see, the olde guard defensive gurus were really struggling with it.

I can just imagine a somber conclave of that cadre of defensive masters engaged in contemplative discourse over this upstart approach to a game which for decades had been reduced to smash-and-mash defensive prowess.  After all, it is etched in gilded letters across the gridiron horizon – “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships!”  Amen!  Can I get a “halleluiah”?

Then, comes in a new breed of coaches who see that if defenses have enough time between plays to get “set”, their schemes, predicated on swifter, speedier, sleeker models of athletes, would have limited chances for victory.  So they decided to call plays quicker, get set quicker, and strike quicker than the trudging old defensive juggernauts could get set.

And they succeeded!  They succeeded in changing the way the game is played – the kinds of athletes which would be developed to accommodate this offensive approach – the general philosophy of what football could be.

And the fans loved it!  It proved to be more exciting, less plodding, more opportunistic, and provided enthusiasm which football had not seen since its inception.

 Whoa, there ‘Hoss!  The olde guard defensive elites decidedly did NOT like it!

They did not like Chip Kelly and Oregon.

They did not like Kevin Sumlin at Houston, now at Texas A&M.

They did not like Mike Leach at Texas Tech, now at Washington State.

And they definitely did not like Gus Malzahn at Auburn!

And they probably did not like green eggs and ham, either!

 Something had to be done – must be done!  So under the guise of “player safety” the rules committee has deemed the “up-tempo” offenses to be a threat to player safety!

That makes as much sense as Chief Justice Roberts calling the “penalty” on the Affordable Care Act a “tax” – but that is another matter, still, it serves as a perfect analogy.

When some presumed bastion of any group’s hierarchy feels threatened and has the means and motivation to change that threat either by fiat, mandate, or manipulation, rest assured the threat will be challenged.

I have long been suspicious of some of football’s rules and their genealogies.  I could never understand why, until just a few years ago, that a defense could not advance an offensive fumble, unless it might be a blocked punt.  After asking the question several times, it was quietly explained to me that years ago a certain influential coach on the NCAA Football Rules Committee had lost some games as a result of opposing defenses scoring on his offensive fumbles in succeeding years.  He was infuriated, and manipulated the committee into putting the “no defensive advance of fumble” rule into effect.  The rationale:  It was unsportsman like.  True story!

So when the venerable Nick Saban lamented two years ago, two weeks in advance of Alabama’s game with Texas A&M, that the “up-tempo” offensive approach was a hindrance to player safety, the seeds of a new mandate to somehow limit those offenses had been planted.

This all may sound like some insane “conspiracy plot” that I have seen unfold, but look at the characters lined up to implement some kind of rule change to limit “up-tempo” play.  No need to name them.  Some of them may be safely ensconced behind the curtains so as not to be exposed leaving their puppet mouth-pieces to foist this upon football.

Then review the responses of coaches like Rich Rodriguez, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, and Tommy Tuberville.

In my perspective, this maneuver is a lame and transparent attempt to hold back, or at least limit, a sea-change in college football by those who do not understand it, who cannot figure out how to stop it, and whose only means is to change the rules.

You know, as in “Hey! That’s not fair!”  And instead of taking their football and going home, they are trying to take away something game-alteringly new.

It is a feeble attempt at best, especially since there is no data whatsoever to support their claim that the “up-tempo” offense presents a “player safety” issue.

So, you defensive gurus, come out of your caves into the light of change – get your players in shape!  Teach them new techniques!  Change your mindset!

But above all, remember the basic rule of survival – Adapt or die!

 

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