Coaches cry foul over proposed rule

The NCAA football rules committee is proposing changes for the 2014 season that would loosen the reins on defensive substitutions and lessen the penalties for targeting fouls called on the field.

The committee's proposal would allow defensive players to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, except for the final two minutes of each half.

Offenses that snap the ball before 29 seconds remain on the play clock would receive a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.

Current rules state that defensive players aren't guaranteed the opportunity to substitute unless the offense first substitutes. Under the proposal, this policy would remain when the play clock starts at 25 seconds.

The proposal would strike a major blow to up-tempo spread offenses that often run plays before the opposing defense is set. Coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema last summer said that up-tempo offenses are likelier to cause injuries for defensive players who can't get off of the field in time.

"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, chair of the rules committee, said in a prepared statement. "As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes."

The committee, which met this week in Indianapolis, believes 10 seconds of substitution time wouldn't inhibit offenses from operating quickly. It points to research that states that offenses rarely snap the ball before 30 seconds remain on the play clock.

The committee also proposes removing a 15-yard penalty when replay officials overturn a targeting disqualification foul, as long as no other penalty is called on the play. The initial targeting policy stated that even if a targeting penalty is overturned and a player avoided an ejection, his team still would receive a 15-yard penalty.

"This alteration keeps the intent of the rule, but allows replay to correct all of the consequences from a rare missed call," Calhoun said.

The proposal also states that in games where replay isn't available, officials may review targeting fouls in the first half during halftime if leagues and teams agree and video is available in the officials' locker room. Targeting calls then could be reversed and the ejected player could return in the second half.

The NCAA's playing rules oversight panel will discuss the proposed changes March 6. The only adjustments allowed this year -- not designated as a rules-change year -- are those that involve player safety or modify a previous rule change such as targeting.

The proposal to slow down offenses will have a hard time passing if the many coaches who run up-tempo these days have anything to say about it.

"It's ridiculous," said Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has also been at the forefront of the fast football trend.

"For me it goes back to the fundamental rules of football," Rodriguez said. "The offense knows where they are going and when they are going to snap the ball. That's their advantage. The defense is allowed to move all 11 guys before the ball is snapped. That's their advantage.

"What's next? You can only have three downs? If you play that extra down you have more chance of injury."

Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said he found about the proposal when he got a phone call from Auburn's Gus Malzahn, a fellow advocate of up-tempo offense.

"I said, 'Y'all are kidding me. That's not true,' " Freeze said he told Malzahn.

Freeze said he was skeptical of the health risks presented by up-tempo offense because he's never seen any data to support the claim.

"I would think they would have some type of study that proves that," he said.

Rodriguez has been pushing the pace with his teams for more than two decades and doesn't buy safety concerns.

"If that was the case wouldn't every team that went fast in practice have more injuries?" he said.

Freeze and Rodriguez both said their offenses rarely get plays off within 10 seconds of the ball being spotted.

"If they say it's not occurring anyway, why put in a rule?" Freeze said. "I just don't really understand what we gain from this other this rule other than a chance to create more chaos."

It's not just the up-tempo coaches who voiced their disapproval with the proposal.

"I just spent two days at Big Ten meetings and it wasn't even brought up," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "It doesn't make sense to me."

The Scarlet Knights ranked 84th in the country in plays per game (71).

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, a former defensive coordinator whose team averaged 78 plays per game (28th in the nation), said the proposal was never discussed during last month's American Football Coaches of Association convention.

"This came out of left field," he said. "It's wrong."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.