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Potential new NCAA rule angers hurry-up offense coaches

If approved, the 15-yard penalty would be removed on overturned targeting calls and a 5-yard penalty would be assessed to teams who snapped the ball too quickly.

William Mancebo

The NCAA Football Rules Committee has proposed changes to two rules, changing how targeting and defensive substitutions are handled, the organization announced Wednesday.

The first proposal is an attempt to change the targeting rule, which caught fire in its first year last season. The rule change would eliminate one of the main complaints -- under the original rule, a targeting call (and ejection) overturned by the replay booth would still result in a 15-yard penalty. This proposal would eliminate the 15-yard penalty if the targeting call is overturned.

The second, and more controversial rule, addresses defensive substitutions and hurry-up offenses. Under this proposal, offenses would not be able to snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock, to allow defenses to make the proper substitutions. If an offense attempts to snap the ball in this time, a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty would be assessed. The rule wouldn't be in play during the last two minutes of each half.

The logic seems a bit backwards:

As North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora points out, the change of rules in the last two minutes suggests player safety is not the overriding concern.

The rule is close to one Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema suggested in June, but Bielema wanted a 15-second period for defensive substitutions. (And, yes, Bielema is involved in this current rule proposal, with ULM's Todd Berry and Air Force's Troy Calhoun in charge.) Alabama head coach Nick Saban has previously said that he felt hurry-up offenses could be damaging to player safety. Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel found that there was not yet enough data to make a definitive statement about player safety.

Saban and Bielema were both at the meeting where the proposal (now dubbed the Saban-Bielema rule) was raised, and Washington State head coach Mike Leach took to Twitter to express his distaste at other coaches' involvement.

Leach was also a guest on WJOX in Birmingham (audio here), and pulled no punches in attacking the proposed rule.

"It's one of the most mind-numbingly dumb suggestions that I've ever heard," he said. "And what makes this one even more reprehensible is the fact that it's so transparently self-serving.

"It's always been a game of strategy and innovation," Leach said. "And of course things come in and work for a while, and then things go out after a while and then they're revived again later, and that's always been one of the exciting parts of the game.'

The head coach targeted his criticism specifically on coaches in the SEC, saying those that were behind the rule were hiding behind rule changes instead of doing their jobs.

"It's a reaction to the success of Auburn and Texas A&M, clearly," he said. "So rather than innovate defensively and re-spawn defensively, it's like -- and this is the lowest level of bureaucracy that exists in football -- it's like rather than adapt our teams or coach our teams, what we're going to try to do instead is invent a rule."

Leach also said the purported purpose of the rule -- player safety -- would not actually be addressed by the rule, and is simply a way for coach's to put forward an agenda.

"But in order to invent a rule, you have to have a reason to invent the rule," he said. "So they're going to try and hide behind player safety in order to do it. And the absurdity of that is more layers deep than we have time to discuss on this radio show, and they do that without any documentation whatsoever that there is a player safety issue."

Leach proposed three different rules that he said he would be against but that would actually be for the betterment of player safety -- no blitzing by the defense, no hitting the quarterback and no bringing more defensive players towards the backfield than the offense has blockers.

The proposals must first be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which meets March 6. There's no guarantee it goes through, however, as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott may prevent the damage to Oregon and other hurry-up offenses in the conference.

Coaches from around the country have not responded well to the news. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez took to his own Twitter account:

As did Mike Gundy, who questioned the rule loudly on the social media platform.

One tweet from Gundy in particular stood out.

While others spoke to reporters:

"Since the start of football, defenses can line up wherever they want to," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "They can move around as much as they want to before the snap. ... They can do whatever they want to do, that's fine. I coach defense, too, that's great. The one thing that has always been offenses' deal is snapping the ball. That's the only thing we have."

"If it's only a small percentage of teams that it would affect, then why do it?" said Baylor head coach Art Briles. "If the large percentage are good with the way things are then leave them alone."

An anonymous coach told Mandel that the rule is unlikely to pass.

The final word goes to Colorado School of Mines innovator Bob Stitt:

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