Feb. 18, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - This is one time Doc Holliday's comment will not be "no comment."
To say that Marshall's fifth-year coach takes issue with a proposed NCAA football rules change on pace of play would be like saying it has been a tough winter in much of the country ... an understatement.
Last week, the NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed a change that would penalize a team if its offense snapped the ball in the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock.
The decision by the panel was made "to enhance student-athlete safety," said Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun, the chair and one of 12 members of the Rules Committee. The opinion is rooted in a desire to allow time for the defense to get on and off the field and get set before the ball is snapped.
If the rule change goes through, it could affect the Thundering Herd as much as any team in the country. Over the last two seasons, Marshall has led all major college teams with 83.8 snaps per game.
"I just think to make that radical a change, at this point, it makes no sense," Holliday said. "And I don't like it at all, to be honest ... I don't think there's any question it affects us a whole lot."
The Herd will enter the 2014 season with senior quarterback Rakeem Cato, a fourth-year starter whose proficiency in coordinator Bill Legg's uptempo spread attack lifted the Herd to a 10-4 season and Military Bowl victory in 2014 - a season after the MU offense led the nation in plays per game (90.6) and averaged 534 yards in a 5-7 finish.
Holliday said his view on the NCAA Rules Committee's decision to advance the proposal -- a team that snaps the ball before 29 seconds on the play clock would get a delay-of-game penalty -- is based upon more than the affect it might have on the Herd.
"The biggest question I have, is the rule just kind of came out of nowhere," Holliday said. "There hasn't been a lot of discussion on it - until after it got out there - and I'm not sure a major change in the way we play the game is good.
"I'm not sure there is any data or facts to support there are more injuries because teams play fast. I know there isn't. I guess they're basing a lot of stuff on safety of the game, but I'm not sure there's been data or even research to even support that."
The subject wasn't discussed formally at the American Football Coaches Association meeting last month and several major college coaches also have said the subject never was raised at conference meetings.
The 12-man Rules Committee includes six coaches - two from FBS in Calhoun and Todd Berry of Louisiana-Monroe. Among the other committee members is Alfred White, Conference USA's associate commissioner who oversees football.
Reports on the Rules Committee decision have stated that Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema addressed the committee before the decision was made last week in Indianapolis. Saban did bring up the subject last summer at the SEC Media Days gathering.
Holliday pointed out, however, that teams coached by Calhoun, Bielema and Saban ranked "above 100 (among 125 FBS teams) in plays per game. Berry's team averaged 71.7 plays per game in 2013, when 47 FBS teams averaged more than 75.
"I don't think two or three football coaches out of the entire country ought to be determining what everyone should do," Holliday said. "I think if you did a survey, there would be a lot more out there that don't like this than do, me being one of them.
"Let's say in the last two minutes of each half you can play fast (which the proposed rule change does allow) with no 10-second runoff. Well, what happens if you're down two scores and there are five minutes left in the game? You want to go fast and try and play catch-up, but if this new rule goes through, you won't be allowed to do that.
"I just think there's a whole lot more thought that needs to be put into it than has taken place at this point."
The process is now in a "comment" period until March 6, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel is scheduled to consider the proposal. Traditionally, Rules Committee proposals are adopted by the Oversight Panel.
And the only way the change can go into effect in 2014 is if the rule change is based upon player safety, because this is an off year for football rules changes.
Current rules prohibit defensive substitution unless the offense first substitutes.
"This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute," Calhoun said in a prepared statement after the Rules Committee agreed to pass the proposal forward. "As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes."
Holliday said he has talked to C-USA's White, who told the Marshall coach "to be sure to get my comment in," Holliday said, "Absolutely, absolutely, I will comment. My comment will be the same thing I've told you. To change a rule like this, it needs to be based on data, not 4-5 coaches getting together and determining how we play, and the outcome of the game."
Holliday pointed to the popularity of a game that saw more than 70 of 125 major college teams average more than 400 yards per game last season.
"I think the fan base enjoys what's happening with the uptempo offenses," he said. "Why mess with what we've got, especially if you can't document why you need to make a change? The sport is more popular than ever before.
No. 1, there aren't a whole lot of voices been heard on this, until after it came out, came out of nowhere, in my opinion. No. 2, there is no data; they say it's common sense. Well, this kind of decision - based on injuries - needs to be based on data. I think they're rushing to judgment.
"You know what? If you could put data in front of me that shows the injuries that occur because of it, then I might change my mind. But right now, I don't see or know of any data that supports that.
"Again, I think part of the uptempo (offense) is being able to snap it quick, and in my mind, what's the difference in whether five offensive linemen have to play five straight plays or five defensive linemen have to play five straight? I just think they're rushing into this and a whole lot more research needs to be done."
Rogers Redding, the NCAA's national coordinator of football officiating, has been quoted as saying "there's not really much hard data on this," and said a rules questionnaire sent to coaches came back evenly split on the substitution rule among FBS coaches.
Six "yes" votes among the 11-member Playing Rules Oversight Panel are needed to change the rule. That group includes four conference commissioners (two from FBS leagues, Pac-12 and Mid-American), three Division III athletic directors, a Division II AD and three senior women's administrators, including one from C-USA (Derita Ratcliffe of UAB).
Last season, the Herd offensive tempo showed depending on situations, as Legg felt the Herd needed to manage clock and "go moderate," as he labeled the slower pace. Still, Marshall averaged 78.1 plays and 500 yards per game.
"I don't know how much it will affect us, but I'm not for something that hasn't been vetted, because it is a major change," Holliday said. "It's going to affect a lot of teams throughout the country. Look at the Big 12, Pac 12, Conference USA, there are a lot of uptempo teams.
"There are an awful lot of good football coaches out there whose teams go uptempo that this will affect. There are a whole lot of us who don't agree, whose voices aren't being heard, and I think they need to be. I guess there's a comment period going on right now, but that being said, it sounds likely it's going to be pushed through.
"Rogers Redding has said most of the time -- once the Rules Committee recommends something -- it's going to pass. Now, I would think for this change, there's going to be a whole lot more opposition to it than what we've seen with other rules. I guess time will tell.
"Maybe it won't pass. And I hope it doesn't."