Football

Bielema says expects slow-down proposal to pass

SEARCY, Ark. (AP) — Bret Bielema made an impassioned case in favor of the much-scrutinized proposal to slow down college offenses on Thursday night.

And the Arkansas coach isn't about to back down, despite a host of criticism from up-tempo, no-huddle coaches across the country. Bielema, speaking to the media before a meeting of the White County Razorback Club, said he expects the proposal to prohibit snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds run off the 40-second play clock to pass when the NCAA playing rules oversight panel votes on March 6.

He also reiterated his stance that the proposal is safety-based — saying he wants to be proactive and make a change before a fatal injury. The former Wisconsin coach pointed to the recent death of California football player Ted Agu during a training run, saying the inability to substitute an injured player between plays could lead to injury or death.

"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?" A host of up-tempo, no-huddle coaches, including Auburn's Gus Malzahn, have come out publicly against the proposed rule, which was passed during a meeting of the NCAA Football Rules Committee last week.

Even committee chairman and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he has yet to see a medical study linking the rapid pace of an offensive to potential health issues for defensive players. Bielema, who was at the meeting in Indianapolis last week as a representative of the American Football Coaches Association, countered Calhoun's assertion by saying more plays lead to more opportunities for injuries such as concussions.

He also offered a direct counter to the claim there's no hard evidence of increased risk of injury. "Death certificates," Bielema said. "There's no more anything I need than that." Bielema highlighted the recent surge in talk of player safety, mentioning President Barack Obama's claim that he wouldn't let his son play football, as a reason to take the issue seriously.

"You have someone pass in the game of football on live TV, (and) see how that affects youth football," Bielema said. He also said the committee discussed 15-, 12- and 10-second possibilities for the proposal, adding that he backed the 10-second version — which he felt would "absolutely" be enough time to substitute

Both Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban were at the original committee meeting, with Saban voicing his concerns about the up-tempo offenses. Saban and Bielema run methodical offenses and have publicly questioned if the quickening pace of offenses is good for the game.

Bielema said Thursday that he hadn't spoken to Saban or any other coaches before the committee meeting. He said the proposal was first discussed at the same meeting a year earlier, and that it was brought back up during a meeting of the AFCA in January.

Malzahn, Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy are just a few of the critics of the proposal. All run versions of up-tempo offenses. "The 10-second rule is like asking basketball to take away the shot clock - Boring!" Gundy tweeted last week. "It's like asking a blitzing linebacker to raise his hand."

Bielema rejected the notion that the proposal has turned into a philosophical battle between old-school and new-school coaches. "I'm not talking about injuries," Bielema said. "I'm talking about death. That concerns me. That's a very serious matter to me, and I think if we talk to any coach in the country that's going to talk against that, I would doubt very much that they would do it openly.

"I understand the resistance, I understand the pushback. It's not a philosophy with me; it's a matter of safety, life and death." He mentioned that a half a dozen players with the Razorbacks have been diagnosed with sickle cell trait, and that the team's trainers must constantly watch the players for signs of dehydration or exhaustion.

"I think it's still safety battle," Bielema said. "... I know every one of those coaches probably has a player in that same scenario, but it hasn't happened. "It's kind of like, do we have to have this happen before we talk about it?"

Malzahn said this week he'd like the proposal to be tabled for a year, to allow for more time to discuss its impact. Bielema, who was a voting member for two years on the rules committee before this year, said he's never seen a player safety proposal passed by the committee fail in front of the Playing Rules Oversight Commission.

"Anything that's ever been player-safety driven has never, in my history there, has never been stopped," Bielema said.

AP Sports Writers Ralph Russo, John Zenor and Eric Olson contributed to this report.

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