August 1, 2013

Do more plays really mean more injuries?

MORE: Bielema's tempo views an issue in-state?

Corona (Calif.) Centennial runs one of the fastest offenses in California, if not the country.

The players line up fast. They snap the ball fast. They run the play fast. They get up fast after being tackled. Then they get to the line of scrimmage and do it all over again -- fast.

So who better to ask than Corona Centennial coach Matt Logan about the validity of statements recently making the rounds, by Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and others, about fast-paced offenses being tied to more injuries.

Bielema recently said that fast offenses, and the inability to substitute defensive players, can lead to a bigger risk of injury for players on both sides of the ball. Alabama coach Nick Saban has expressed similar sentiments and even questioned whether this is how people want football to be played. Other coaches have echoed those remarks.

It has been one of the hot topics this college football offseason and, of course, there are dissenting views, such as those of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who said he thought Bielema was joking when he made his comments. West Virginia head man Dana Holgorsen told Saban to get over it because things are not going to change.

Their arguments are that smash-mouth football and 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust are fine for some programs, be it Alabama, Wisconsin or seemingly now Arkansas, but to change the rules to limit speed seems outrageous.

Logan seems to think so.

"It's just an excuse for defenses to try to make a rule change so offenses don't play so fast," the Corona Centennial coach said. "It's an advantage to an offense.

"It creates chaos, it creates a hectic moment and some people aren't comfortable with that pace. That's the whole reason why we went to it way back when, to bring something different to the game. It also limits substitutions. If the offensive players can play in it and not get hurt, why would an injury happen to a defensive player? It just doesn't make sense."

Bielema's argument is that faster paces could bring injuries to either offensive or defensive players. He doesn't limit it to only his side. However, an unscientific study done by CFBMatrix.com seems to not only discount his claims but prove the opposite.

According to the numbers at CFBMatrix.com, on the 20 "fastest" teams in college football last season, who ran an average of 83.12 plays per game, there were 143 total starts lost to injury with 7.15 average number of starts lost per team. Of the 20 "slowest" teams, who ran an average of 65.85 plays per game, there were 151 total starts lost to injury and an average of 7.55 number of starts lost per team.

A quick recap for the mathematically challenged: Teams that played slower -- in many cases the more physical teams that don't rely on spread offenses -- sustained more injuries.

For Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team averaged 38.2 points and 526.2 yards per game last season, any consideration of rule changes to slow down offenses is absurd. What would be next -- to limit the number of blitzing defenders so quarterbacks aren't at risk?

"The rules have always favored the offense," Rodriguez said on ESPN. "It's just now more teams are taking advantage of what those rules are. I know there are some folks that want to slow down the game or whatever ... it's silly.

"Maybe they should start having a rule where you can't blitz more than four or five people. That's dangerous for the quarterback. That's where the game is and that's where it's going to stay and more people are taking advantage of those rules offensively today all across college football and in the NFL."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had an interesting and surprising suggestion -- maybe look at how long the game takes as opposed to how fast it is played. Whittingham suggests that by manipulating some of the clock rules, the number of plays will come down and in turn possibly stop some injuries.

"When you look at the pro game, the college game and the high school game, the college game is by far the most plays run," Whittingham said on ESPN. "If we did something to shorten the game with the clock structure, not stop the clock after first downs, something of that nature, that would be more in order than trying to mandate the pace of the play."

Often overlooked in this debate is that there could be recruiting implications.

The message to recruits from the coaches who want to slow things down could be that playing in up-tempo conferences such as the Pac-12 or Big 12 is an injury risk. The more plays run, the better the chance for injury. Planting that idea in a recruit's head, or in the head of less-informed parents or coaches, could give some schools an advantage.

Whether it has any validity or not seems immaterial. A coach sitting in the living room, explaining his opinions on fast-paced offenses being tied to injuries, could make a compelling argument. It could give them an edge, and recruiting is all about gaining the slightest edge.

"I don't think there is any merit to that argument [that playing faster creates injuries]," Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said. "The power-brand football programs like Wisconsin and Alabama like the way they do things where they own the clock and wear teams down, and that's great for them.

"But it should have no impact whatsoever on what someone else wants to do. What if somebody wanted to ban the zone-read option because it might get the quarterback hurt? It's a recruiting tactic for sure. They're using it to say you don't want to go to the Pac-12, they play up-tempo football where you could get hurt, or the Big 12 where it's all spread football or whatever recruiting tactic they want to use."

There's no question many recruits want to play in high-tempo offenses, get the ball a lot and have the opportunity to score on every play. But if a seed is planted that there could be unseen risks to that style, it could give them something to think about.

The debate continues. Style, substance and all that goes with good offseason chatter.




 

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