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Bret Bielema On Pace Of Play, “We have an obligation to do what’s right”

Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema is resurrecting his war on the no huddle. What do you think, should hurry up offenses be forced to slow down?

Remember last year when certain SEC coaches were whining about pace of play? Before Oklahoma could get the Schooner back on the trailer after depantsing the Crimson Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban was lobbying the NCAA to slow down the game. Cowering behind a thin veil of player safety concerns, he pushed for a 10 Second Rule. Public backlash eventually led to the ridiculous rule being tabled, but it stated that if an offense were to snap the ball before the play clock read 29 seconds, it would be some sort of backwoods, 5-yard, delay-of-game penalty.

“The fastball guys say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic. What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.'” Saban explained at the time.

Using the same facade of what’s best for the players, Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema joined Saban in the fight against the hurry up no huddle.

“Not to get on the coattails of some of the other coaches, there is a lot of truth that the way offensive philosophies are driven now, there’s times where you can’t get a defensive substitution in for 8, 10, 12 play drives,” Bielema said during SEC spring meetings a year ago. “That has an effect on safety of that student-athlete, especially the bigger defensive linemen, that is really real.”

However, there’s little to no evidence to back up those claims, and most fans viewed the coaches’ rhetoric as an attempt to protect their brand of football. The no-huddle offense has brought parity and excitement to college football like it’s never seen before. Teams like Oklahoma State, Oregon, Baylor, and Clemson have risen from the depths of despair to challenge for conference crowns and more.

Like a dog with a bone, Bret Bielema just wont let the issue go.

On Tuesday Chris Borland sent shock waves through the NFL when he announced his retirement from the league at the ripe old age of 24. Borland, a linebacker for the 49ers, is coming off a great rookie season. He decision is shocking, but it didn’t come without a lot of though. He cited long-term health concerns for his decision.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland said via ESPN’s Outside The Lines.  “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

The 49ers were shocked, but stood by Borland’s decision to hang up the cleats.

“While unexpected, we certainly respect Chris’ decision,” The 49ers General Manager, Trent Baalke, said in a statement. “From speaking with Chris, it was evident that he had put a great deal of thought into this decision. He was a consummate professional from day one and a very well-respected member of our team and community. Chris is a determined young man that overcame long odds in his journey to the NFL and we are confident he will use the same approach to become very successful in his future endeavors. We will always consider him a 49er and wish him all the best.”

What does any of this have to do with pace of play concerns in college football though? Well, to be honest, nothing, but Bret Bielema seems to think otherwise. He used his former player’s decision to get back up on his soap box of slowing down the game.

“We have an obligation to do what’s right,” Bielema told Sporting News on Tuesday. “I can’t understand how some guys can’t see that.”

“We have to protect student athletes to extremes we never thought of before,” Bielema continued. “I just read a study that said players in the no-huddle, hurry-up offense play the equivalent of five more games than those that don’t. That’s an incredible number. Our awareness as a whole has to increase.”

The thing is, Borland didn’t face many hurry up offenses while playing for Bielema at Wisconsin. Bielema is on a crusade against the quick snap though. After all, once you’ve tried to insinuate that a players death is the result of fast pace offenses, don’t let muddying the waters of a real player safety concerns,  like how head injuries are diagnosed and treated, stop you. Yep. You read that right. Shortly after California player Ted Agu tragically collapsed and died during a conditioning run a year ago, Bret Bielems was asked about evidence to support his claims of player safety.  In an incredible distasteful move, his reply was “Death certificates.”

Absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence though. Is there a player safety concerns related to pace of play? The logic is seemingly sound, more plays, more risk for injury, but I’ve yet to see evidence to back the claim. Last year, the good folks over at CFBMatrix decided to collect some data in order to find out if there was any truth to Saban’s and Bielema’s bemoaning.

Comparing 2012 Pace of Play Stats to Starts Lost to Injury By Conference

Starts Lost
Offense
Plays
Per Game
Starts Lost
Defense
Plays
Defended
Per Game
Starts Lost
Total
Plays Faced
Per Game
Starts Lost
Per Play
BIG 12 59 78.6 79 77.6 138 156.2 0.0069
PAC 12 112 77.6 102 78.4 214 157.1 0.0089
ACC 102 78.0 140 78.0 242 156.0 0.0102
SEC 165 72.9 124 74.6 289 147.5 0.0109
BIG TEN 161 75.4 103 76.6 264 150.9 0.0114

Not only do the stats say increased pace of play is not contributing to more injuries, it actually shows conferences snapping the ball more frequently have less injuries. Like, significantly less. In 2012 the Big 12 Conference snapped the ball almost 9 times more a game than the SEC, but has around 40% fewer injuries per play.

The correlation continues when you expanded the data over the time period the up-tempo offense exploded in popularity.

2009 – 2012 Pace of Play Stats Compared to Starts Lost to Injury By Conference

Starts Lost
Offense
Plays
Per Game
Starts Lost
Defense
Plays
Defended
Per Game
Starts Lost
Total
Plays Faced
Per Game
Starts Lost
Per Play
BIG 12 317 81.4 278 81.1 595 162.4 0.0065
PAC 12 464 76.9 484 78.2 948 155.3 0.0109
ACC 485 76.5 576 77.3 1061 153.7 0.0112
SEC 538 73.9 560 75.8 1098 149.7 0.0114
BIG TEN 565 76.1 439 76.3 1004 152.1 0.0112

From 2009 to 2012, the Big 12 played the most amount of downs per game, but also had the fewest lost starts to injury. The PAC 12 ran the second most amount of plays, and had the second fewest amount of injuries… You can see where this is going.

There is something else that indicates the strength of the relationship between the two stats. The Big 12 easily leads in number of plays, and similarly has a large lead in fewest injuries. Meanwhile, 2-4, and even 5th run closer to the same number of plays, and the injuries per play maintains the roughly the same spacing.

As CFBMatrix acknowledges, a full study is needed, but so far it’s evident there is a connection between the styles of offense and injuries. It’s just not the connection Bret keeps claiming.

 – Cover Photo Credit: Bret Bielema | Sporting News | YouTube

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