Notre Dame, others get go-ahead to play fast football -- for now

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — At Monday’s first Notre Dame football practice of the spring, the Irish offense blew down the field in its 11-on-none drill as if its collective hair was on fire. ...

And as if the controversial 10-second rule proposal was headed for the recycle bin.

On Wednesday, the latter became a reality, a day before the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel was scheduled to vote on it.

That doesn’t mean the proposal can’t or won’t be resurrected sometime in the future, but the rules committee’s unanimous decision to withdraw a move to put a serious speed bump in front of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses is out for the 2014 season.

USA Today’s George Schroeder was the first to report the news

In Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s first four seasons at ND, a passage of such a rule would not likely have had a noticeable effect, but Kelly has expressed a desire to get back to his fastbreak roots in 2014.

And Notre Dame provided a preview of that in their 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers on Dec. 28, in which the Irish ran a season-high 90 offensive plays. For the 2013 season, ND averaged 67.4 offensive plays, more than four below the national average (72).

That’s the low-water mark in Kelly’s first four seasons, but the Irish never broke 70 plays a game in any of those years. The last time they did? In 2009, Charlie Weis’ final season as head coach, when ND ran a traditional huddle-up, pro-style offense much of the time.

The beauty and function of running the uptempo offense, particularly in a non-catch-up situation, is to limit defensive substitutions, to keep them from matching up situationally based on down and distance.

The rules committee initially cited player safety last month for passing the proposal and its intent to forward it to the oversight panel for final approval. But rules committee chairman Troy Calhoun, Air Force’s head coach, backed off his initial comments supporting the rule after a nationwide backlash.

Interestingly, when you apply the fast-paced model to Kelly’s offenses at Cincinnati, it didn’t necessarily result in more plays for opposing defenses, but rather more for his own defense.

The 2009 team that went unbeaten in the regular season averaged 64.1 plays on offense, fewer than any of Kelly’s ND teams, but the Cincinnati defense was on the field for an average of 71.9 plays that year.

All three of Kelly’s Bearcat teams had more defensive plays than offensive at the end of each season. Only once, in 2007, did UC run more than 66.2 offensive plays per game (72.3 that season).

Some opponents of the proposal suggested the safety narrative was nothing more than politics and cited a widespread study in which it was suggested that games involving slow-play offenses actually have more injuries on defense than those that face fast-play of-fenses.

Proponents also were scattered about what the safety issues actually were. Was it fatigue, as Alabama’s Nick Saban suggested? Was it about protecting players who carried the sickle-cell trait, as Arkansas’ Bret Bielema suggested?

“I would not be in favor of it if you can’t show me that there’s data that goes to the heart of player safety,” Kelly said last week.

Had the rule been implemented, the offense would not be allowed to snap the ball until the 40-second play clock reached 29 seconds (or less). If the offense snapped the ball before the play clock reached 29 seconds, a five-yard, delay-of-game penalty would be as-sessed.

NCAA national coordinator of officials, Rogers Redding, told the AP that the NCAA received an unusually high volume of comments during the feedback period after the proposal passed — 324 to be exact. Of those responding, 75 percent opposed the change, 16 percent supported it and 9 percent were undecided.

"What the committee agreed to do was table that proposal to allow time to gather more information from the medical community,” Redding told the AP, “and allow time for a broader discussion for the implications of that change,"

Irish go on hiatus

Notre Dame held its second practice of the spring Wednesday but won’t reconvene again until March 19, after the school’s spring break.

“I probably got more accomplished than I expected,” Kelly told und.com of the first two sessions. “I thought these two days would be conditioning and getting them acclimated to some football activities. It was much more than that.

“There was a lot going on. There was a lot of football, a lot of teaching, a lot of activities. We really laid down what we expect for our football team, both in the playbook and expectation. Having a new defensive coordinator (Brian VanGorder) and obviously me be-ing involved offensively and coach (Mike) Denbrock being our new offensive coordinator, we needed to get going, and it’s worked out well.”

Eric Hansen: 574-235-6112

Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

During its Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers in December, Notre Dame gave fans a glimpse of the uptempo offense it plans to install in the upcoming season. (AP File Photo)