People often become so diligent supporting their transparently self-serving agendas that they phase into an almost evangelical zeal in order to resist counterargument. They actually seem to start believing what they say, forgetting -- compartmentalizing? -- their disingenuous point A.
And so we have Arkansas coach Bret Bielema at it again. On Tuesday, he again somberly shook his head over those toxic up-tempo, no-huddle offenses that are ruining his beloved game and endangering the intrepid young men who play it. His launching point was surprising news that his former player at Wisconsin, Chris Borland, a fantastic linebacker, had decided to retire from the San Francisco 49ers after one year, citing concerns about head trauma and what it might mean for his long-term health.
Borland is walking away from NFL money -- the three years remaining on his $2.93 million rookie contract -- so he can improve the odds he'll enjoy his grandkids. Fellow 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, perhaps the game's most talented linebacker, and Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker also recently announced surprisingly early retirements.
"We have an obligation to do what’s right," Bielema told The Sporting News' Matt Hayes. "I can’t understand how some guys can’t see that."
Doing "what's right," a thing benighted folks apparently don't see, is to create rules that slow down up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Bielema wants us to ignore the strategic disadvantage this would force upon up-tempo teams, while having no effect on his down-tempo, huddle-'til-the-hogs-come-home offense.
Now, Borland was a five-year player and four-year starter at Wisconsin, and he played four of those years for Bielema -- a career, by the way, in which he rarely played against up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. It would be more supported by logic to say Bielema bears more responsibility for Borland's health concerns than up-tempo, no-huddle offenses.
Although Arkansas denied my request to chat with Bielema more extensively about all this, it's not a bad thing Bielema is talking about player safety. I also don't want to be seen as impugning his integrity just because he's acting like a college football coach, looking for a competitive advantage in every possible way short of something that would end up in a courtroom.
That said, this isn't the first time Bielema made an illogical statement in support of his crusade. A year ago, he connected the tragic death of California's Ted Agu during a team workout with the need to slow down offenses during games. It was nonsensical and offensive and he apologized.
Safety and the long-term health of players is the BIG issue facing football. Know what the chief problem with football is, though? Football. It's a sport of collisions. Collisions are bad for you, particularly at the highest levels where guys are bigger and faster. There's a reason that CrossFit, as brutally challenging as it is, doesn't have any workouts that involve, say, running into walls at a full sprint.
Ah, Bielema might then interject. We can reduce the number of collisions if we slow down the game. Arkansas' defense faced 63.2 plays per game last season. Arizona's defense faced 79.6. Advantage Razorbacks, right?
Yet there is a transparent competitive angle to the chief way Bielema is championing player safety. There are myriad other ways to make the game safer that don't require teams Bielema might face to rewrite their playbooks. Requiring mouthpieces? Better equipment in general? Shortening the season? Shortening games? New contact rules? Mandating injured players sit out at least one series? Stronger concussion protocols? More assiduous testing for performance-enhancing drugs?
Naaa. Let's demand a change that makes a specific scheme against the rules, one that -- perhaps not coincidentally -- Bielema doesn't use.
Here's my grand idea for improving player safety: Mandate that players can't weigh more than 290 pounds. Why? It's unhealthy to be more than 300 pounds, and that is a fact that is not in dispute.
Bielema has 17 players over 300 pounds on his roster, including 11 over 320. Arizona has just seven over 300 and two over 320. Advantage Wildcats, right? Bielema is actively supporting an unhealthy lifestyle that will lead to premature death. And don't get mad about that sentence. It's simply a factual observation.
Of course, Bielema's style of play works better with a surfeit of 300-plus-pounders. Hmm.
Last year, 10 Pac-12 teams ran some form of up-tempo, no-huddle offenses, and Oregon State will make the switch under new coach Gary Andersen this fall, so Stanford will be the only remaining holdout (or maybe not).
Despite that, the Stanford defense only faced 67.2 plays per game last season. Know why? It played good defense. Cardinal coach David Shaw is no fan of the no-huddle offense, but he has not joined that self-serving group agitating against it.
Football is facing a gathering crisis. The solution is to make the game safer. At some point, however, our society might ask itself if we can make it safe enough.
Yet seeking out a strategic advantage under the guise of altruism, as Bielema is doing, should be mocked. And then ignored.