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Bret Bielema references Cal player's death amid hurry-up debate

The Arkansas coach says 'death certificates' prove the necessity of the proposed NCAA football slowdown rule.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Update, Feb. 21: Arkansas News has posted a full transcript. One of Bielema's answers:

Q: What's your reaction to the pace of play proposal:

"You know what, the last time I talked to (Air Force coach) Troy (Calhoun) was when we were in that meeting. Obviously, I wasn't in the room when the room was voting. So all I know is what was said during that discussion, all that goes into it. The ironic part of it, there was a proposal for 15 seconds, 12 seconds and 10 seconds, and I was the one who told them they should move it to 10.

"I'll go back to, the only thing that runs through my mind is that there's a situation in college football, almost three weeks ago, a player from California died after a workout. The player had sickle-cell trait. I have half a dozen players on my team currently that have that trait and we train our medical staff and we train our people that if they put themselves in a position where they have played a lot or conditioned a lot, they don't even know what's beginning to happen. They have difficulty breathing. Look for the signs, which you put your hands over your head, do different things. And we're very wired into it because it is something that has been pretty prevalent over the past couple of years. If a player begins to do that, you are supposedly to obviously cease immediately. You don't do anything. So if you've got them in a workout, you pull them aside. The player in California, they were actually talking to him. He walked off the field and began to communicate with them. And then several minutes later, he was dead. We have players in that same situation.

"If one of those players is on the field for me, I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game and he raises his hand to come out of the game and I can't do it, what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do when we have a player that tells us he's injured. If we want to get to the point where we're flopping around on the ground like somebody did against us this year, then that is what you're going to force people to do. But if a kid wants to come out of the game because he can't go any further, they have given us no other choice, so that's the whole agenda item."

Bielema was also asked about why players can't just use the current clock-stopping mechanism -- staying on the ground after a play -- in the event of a health risk. He said players "aren't wired that way." It's worth noting he's previously focused on the hurry-up's alleged effects on injuries, but Thursday said, "I'm not talking about injuries, I'm talking about death."

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, a steadfast proponent of a proposed rule that would provide a defense 10 seconds to substitute before each offensive snap, raised the recent death of California defensive lineman Ted Agu Wednesday as evidence of the necessity of the rule.

Bielema, who has come under fire in recent days for his role in proposing the rule to the NCAA Football Rules Committee, met with reporters before an Arkansas booster meeting. When asked for evidence that player safety necessitated the implementation of the proposed rule, Bielema reportedly said, "Death certificates. There's no more anything I need than that."

"If one of those players is on the field for me, and I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game," Bielema said. "And he raises his hand to stop the game, and I can't do it. What am I supposed to do?

"What are we supposed to do when we have a player who tells us he's injured?"

Bielema's comments specifically referenced Agu, a Cal lineman who died during a training run two weeks ago. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports later reported that Agu had the sickle cell trait (the article has since been removed). The trait has been connected with a higher likelihood of heat stroke and muscle breakdown during intense exercise. Bielema told reporters that he has "half a dozen" players with the same trait.

Cal fans were not pleased about seeing a recently-deceased player's name brought into a rules debate. California Golden Blogs called Bielema's statement "abhorrent."

You would think that a coach would be sensitive to how awful it must feel to lose one of your players. How heart-rending it must be to inform his family and loved ones. If that coach were a decent human being with a heart and soul, I hope you'd be right.

Brett Bielema is apparently neither. Shame on you, Mr. Bielema. How dare you use a tragedy to further your own selfish agenda? You owe Ted Agu's family an apology.

Bielema's comments come after Air Force coach and NCAA Football Rules Committee member Troy Calhoun, a presumed supporter of the new rule, said that the rule should not be adopted without "emperical data" showing that it would improve player safety. No such data has ever been offered or said to exist.

There is no rule prohibiting a player who is exhausted or unable to continue from participating in the next play from scrimmage, and a player in distress due to injury or fatigue can simply stay on the field and draw an injury timeout.

The proposed rule, prohibiting offenses from snapping the football with 30 seconds or more on the 40-second clock, must pass the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on March 6 to take effect. Bielema reportedly said that he expects the rule to pass, but he is one of the few remaining who does.

Since it was proposed last week, the 10-second delay has come under a barrage of criticism from coaches who run a hurry-up attack, like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Washington State's Mike Leach. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, not usually a proponent of hurry-up tactics, said Thursday that he doesn't believe the rule will survive. Coupled with the skepticism shown by Calhoun, prospects for passage look dim.