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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
March 5, 2014
The proposed rule change that would have somewhat curtailed hurry-up, no-huddle (HUNH) offenses’ ability to dictate game pace was pulled off the table Wednesday, a day before a rules oversight committee would have voted on its fate.
HUNH coaches had been united in their opposition to the proposed rule, arguing that its passage would have stifled innovation.
With the death of the proposed rule, get ready to see another “innovation”: Coached flops.
That’s right, football very well might begin to take on an aspect of the “other” football, soccer: players feigning injury, although unlike soccer, it won’t be to hopefully draw a penalty. In American football’s case, it will be to force game officials to become doctors, deciding who is really hurt and who isn’t.
How’s that for innovation?
The logic behind the proposed rule change – that the extra 10-15 plays per game HUNH-based teams are able to run gives players an additional 10-15 chances to get hurt – seems plausible on its face, but was backed by no quantifiable evidence. But injuries weren’t the only consideration; the real bogeyman behind the HUNH was the way it pressured field officials into artificially hurrying their own pace, often allowing the ball to be snapped before chain crews and linesmen were ready, and leading to an increase in missed flags for illegal formation, linemen illegally downfield and other fouls.
The proposed change to the clock rules would have had very little effect on substitutions – HUNH teams as a group only ran about 5 percent of their plays last year inside the 10-second window that would have been affected by the rule change – but it would have given field officials a chance to essentially reset their internal clock. Now, that’s gone.
In its place will likely be a rise in flopping. Or, simply, head coaches will tell their players, “when you’re tired, don’t run off the field – collapse where you stand.”
So what’s a ref to do? Football at all levels is under pressure to become safer. Youth football programs have seen their numbers go into decline. The NFL is dealing with a lawsuit on concussion treatment and care that will ultimately put a sizable dent in the league’s coffers, and it would surprise no one if a companion lawsuit didn’t eventually spawn in the world of college football. Just over the horizon are cases dealing with heat exhaustion and other medical issues.
There is no chance the NCAA would allow a field official to become an arbiter of what constitutes a flop and what doesn’t. The majority of the NCAA’s officials have no medical training beyond possibly first aid. They are part-timers who spend most of their year teaching grade-school English, adjusting car insurance claims or filing their clients’ tax returns. They are not medical professionals, and they don’t aspire to be medical professionals. When players go down, the chances an official tells him to walk it off will be miniscule.
And flops are already happening. Auburn, ironically enough, was accused of staging one of its own against Arkansas in 2013, to the point that Tiger head coach Gus Malzahn had to eventually address it in the press. LSU under Les Miles has long been criticized for engaging in it, although the Tigers have never given the complaints credence.
The smartest thing for a defensive coach to do now is to work the flop into his regular substitution rotation. Instead of defensive lines rotating every third snap, play three snaps and hold a group flop. Substitute, then repeat.
Since the HUNH isn’t just about pressuring opposing defenses – since it is also about pressuring field officials; HUNH coaches regularly encourage high school teams to install the offense on the advice that officials will miss too many calls – it’s time for defensive coaches to exert equal pressure on the sport. Fake injuries, flop, hold knees and cry like babies until an official stops the clock.
Is that fair? Not really. It’s not good sportsmanship, either. But it also isn’t illegal – not in a way an official could tell, at least. And a year or two of it would force rulesmakers to actually fix the problem rather than allowing the spirit of the game to devolve. If it takes hiring an eighth field official, do it. If it takes a change in clock rules, do that. If it means that defenses have an equal right to force a pause in play to initiate substitutions, that works, too.
Otherwise, start coaching those flops, and get so good at them that Dick Fosbury himself would be proud.
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