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Friday, March 7, 2014
Mailbag: Player safety, SEC scheduling

By Ted Miller

Welcome to the mailbag. Hope you are having an auspicious Friday.

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To the notes!

Rob from Northern Oregon writes: Ted, the up-tempo offenses have been targeted by [Nick] Saban because he cannot beat them in an even odds situation. Rather than meet the fight head-on, Mr. Saban (I use Mr. loosely here) has attempted to circumvent the situation by enacting a rule change, based upon player safety. I pose this: Has anyone looked into the health and safety issues related to being over 300 pounds and maintaining that mass throughout a college career? I suspect that even the most rudimentary study would show decreased lifespan, increased health problems and overall reduction in the quality of life that results from being fed and manipulated like a stockyard cow while in college. Player safety advocates might want to adopt a maximum BMI rule for college players if safety is such a concern. Lean and mean … It takes a lean horse for a long ride.

Ted Miller: "Cannot beat?" Well, Nick Saban has been pretty successful winning games. We probably should grant him that.

And there have been plenty of studies about BMI [Body Mass Index] and lifespan. People who are obese have more health problems. Generally, we can say weighing 300 pounds is not healthy. But adopting a maximum BMI sounds like it might be legally complicated, and I'd guess most 300-pound college football players are more physically fit than an average U.S. citizen.

Nick Saban
Judging by this week's mailbag, Pac-12 fans aren't real big on Nick Saban right now.
Still, I hear you. You could do all sorts of things to improve player safety. Most, of course, would dramatically change the game.

You could remove face masks, which would increase the number of broken noses but might reduce the number of concussions because players would be forced to form tackle instead of leading with their head/helmet.

You could eliminate blitzes and zone defenses. If defenses were forced to be more predictable, then you'd have fewer blow-up shots on offensive players.

You could reduce the number of players on the field. You could reduce the size of the field.

You could make the game two-handed touch. Or use flags. Or have a player from each team debate what should happen on each play and then have a judge rewards or subtracts yards based on the merits of their arguments. The Ivy League might like that.

What's most interesting about this debate about so-called player safety is that the folks who want to slow down the up-tempo teams are simply saying this: Football is dangerous.

And that, unfortunately, is true.

Saban, one of the leaders of the slow-down movement, this week compared football to smoking cigarettes. Seriously. I will include the quote so we can all slap our foreheads in unison.

Said Saban, "The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) 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.'"

(Slap!)

The slow-down folks are saying, "Because football is dangerous, and up-tempo teams run more plays, and plays are football and are therefore dangerous, we should try to reduce the number of plays in a game. For safety's sake."

Heck, why not shorten the game instead? Play eight-minute quarters. That would reduce the number of plays and reduce the number of injuries and no one would have to change their scheme.

(Shortly I will get an email from the TV side of ESPN saying, "Hush.")

The point here is simple: The slow-down folks want to slow the game down because they play slow-down football. They believe slow-down football gives them an advantage, and up-tempo teams are being mean and taking away that advantage. So, they scheme, let's change the rules and force folks to play the slow way, which means slow-down teams will win more.

Saban's Alabama team has become like USC was from 2002-2008 -- it's physically superior to just about any other team in the nation. Because his players can consistently win one-on-one battles, he wants to minimize strategy. He wants to line up and run a play. Wait 25 seconds, run another play. And see what happens.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Saban and Alabama's bitter rival, Auburn, is now coached by up-tempo maestro Gus Malzahn, owner of a gigantic football brain, one that might be even as big as Saban's. That matchup is on track to become one of the great annual stories in college football -- the Iron Bowl as essentially a national playoff game on a regular basis.

That's not what Saban wants, though. He's not happy with all these spunky teams with all their brainy football. He wants them to behave, get out of the way and let him win national championships.


JohnV8r from El Dorado Hills, Calif., writes: Which is more likely to happen: The SEC is penalized by the playoff selection committee for only playing an eight-game conference schedule, or the other power conferences move to an eight-game conference schedule because the SEC does not end up being penalized by the selection committee for their eight-game conference schedule?

Ted Miller: While others might disagree, I think the SEC is going to face pressure to play a nine-game conference schedule AND at least one high quality nonconference game a year, or it will be penalized.

That's at least if the selection committee has guts and wants to be fair. It can't be swayed by the "just trust us" justification we heard so often during the BCS era.

How would this go? Well, let's look at 2014 in the SEC East.

Let's say both South Carolina and Missouri finish 11-1, but Missouri's loss is on Sept. 27 in Columbia, S.C., so the Gamecocks win the East tiebreaker due to the head-to-head victory. South Carolina then goes on to the SEC championship game, and Steve Spurrier wins the press conference but loses to Alabama.

So Alabama is in the four-team playoff.

Then the SEC apologists would chime in: There is no WAY you can keep a one-loss SEC team out of the playoff! No matter that Missouri wouldn't have played Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Paired with a weak nonconference schedule, the Tigers set up as a team that shouldn't get the automatic benefit of the doubt when comparing them to other one-loss AQ conference teams.

For example, in this 2014 scenario, there is no way in Hades that Missouri should be able to slip in ahead of Stanford, which plays an exponentially tougher schedule next year. And there is no way in Hades that the Tigers should get into the playoff over an unbeaten team from an AQ conference, such as an Ohio State or Oklahoma State.

The very idea that a 14-team conference wants to play fewer conference games than 12- and 10-team conferences is beyond competitive reason. Isn't the conference schedule about figuring who the best teams in said conference are? How can you even compare Missouri's schedule with East rival Florida's? The Gators play Alabama and LSU (and, by the way, Florida State)?

The ONLY reason for playing eight conference games instead of nine is to rig the system.

I mean, just imagine if someone tried to force up-tempo teams to slow down by rigging the system with a new rule. But no one would ever do that, right?


Michael from Fairbanks, Alaska, writes: How long will it take for coach Chris Petersen to turn the Dawgs into a Pac-12 powerhouse and beat Oregon on a consistent basis?

Ted Miller: 426 days. Plus or minus.

I don't think Washington fans should expect the Huskies to immediately eclipse Oregon -- and Stanford -- in the North pecking order. I suspect Petersen will need to get the lay of the Pac-12 land for a couple of years and also get at least a few recruiting classes with "his" guys.

My impression during the 2013 Oregon-Washington game is that the rivalry is narrowing after a decade of Ducks dominance, despite the Huskies’ fourth-quarter meltdown. While some Huskies fans seem eager to cast aspersions at what Steve Sarkisian accomplished, he rebuilt a staggering program and left a top-25 team behind when he bolted to USC.

I don't see any reason for the Huskies to fall out of the Top 25 the next couple of years. The question is, do they move into the top 10 with Oregon and Stanford? They aren't alone, by the way, in wanting to get there.

There is, however, a back door, at least with the Ducks. What if Mark Helfrich is not able to maintain what Mike Bellotti/Chip Kelly built? What if the Ducks end up missing Nick Aliotti more than some expect? Washington could move past Oregon because Oregon might not remain a top-10 team. I'm not saying I think that will happen, only that it's a reasonable possibility.

I talked to a Pac-12 coach the other day who said Petersen is going to get things going quickly. He termed him one of the nation's truly elite coaches. Which is nice, if you're a UW fan.

Many of us suspect the same. But it's now up to Petersen to justify the plaudits that have been flung his way for years while playing in a major conference.


aztr81 from Phoenix writes: I've grown tired hearing the debate on the 10-second rule (i.e., the "Saban Rule"). If a coach doesn't like the pace of the game, CALL A TIMEOUT!!! Out of timeouts? Then keep control of the football and keep the other team's offense off the field! (Example, Stanford vs. Oregon, or Notre Dame vs. Arizona State.) Goodness, gracious, it really is a joke that certain individuals or organizations are trying to fundamentally change the game we love. End of rant. Thank you.

Ted Miller: You're welcome.