Everything Alabama coach Nick Saban does or says is put under a microscope. That isn’t exactly groundbreaking information.
When you’re one of the most successful coaches in one of the most high-profile sports, it comes with the territory. Often, that brings large amounts of criticism, fair or not.
And oh are we seeing that being played out right now.
You’ve probably heard about the NCAA Rules Committee proposal to not allow offenses to snap the ball until there are 29 seconds left on the clock, citing safety concerns. Besides, the proposal said, offenses "rarely" snap the ball before that time, even when they're running tempo.
The proposal itself brought heavy criticism, but the fire really began roaring when Saban’s name was attached to the proposal.
"Coach Saban asked for the opportunity to meet with the committee and talk about this," NCAA Coordinator of Officials Rogers Redding said, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN. "It's not routine, but it's not unique, either."
And so, while it’s still unclear how much of a hand Saban had in it, his name became attached with the rule.
It makes sense, in a way. His defenses have been picked apart by hurry-up teams lately. Alabama survived a shootout in College Station earlier in the season. Auburn moved the ball well against the Tide in the regular-season finale before winning on an improbable missed field goal, which was returned for a touchdown. And Oklahoma had success with the tempo in a Sugar Bowl upset.
If Saban had the opportunity to fight what has caused him headaches in the past, wouldn't he? And to do it under the guise of safety? Genius!
Dave Bartoo of cfbmatrix.com crunched some numbers and found that slower-paced teams actually lost more starts due to injuries than faster ones.
But Saban's desire to implement the rule is unlikely to be simply down to him wanting to lessen the effectiveness of the hurry-up offense.
If Saban did indeed persuade the committee to introduce this proposal solely so he could gain a competitive advantage, then that’s Saban admitting defeat, a problem he can’t solve, something we’ve never seen him do before.
“Nick hates excuses,” a former Saban assistant told Matt Hayes of The Sporting News. “If he’s pushing this for any other reason than player safety, he’s making an excuse. At the end of the day, he has to live with the decisions he has made—and he can’t live with that if, in his mind, if it’s an excuse.”
It’s difficult to see Saban going down without a fight like that.
Plus, there might actually be safety concerns.
In June of 2013, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports released a report saying:
The committee supported that all sports that do not have free substitutions during competition (e.g., baseball, volleyball) consider modifying rules to allow an athlete with a possible concussion to be removed from play and evaluated without impacting the substitution rules. (h/t John Infante, athleticscholarhips.net)
Infante goes on to further explain:
So all we know is that someone researched when teams snap the ball during the play clock and that CSMAS asked sports to look at substitution rules at least once in July 2013. Reality is likely somewhere between the extremes that CSMAS has very good scientific data and conclusions supporting the substitution proposal and it just has not been released yet or anti-hurry up coaches took some rough numbers about the pace of football games and a request not directed at football and blew it up into a safety issue for personal gain.
The numbers on the surface may not reflect a direct effect on injuries by speed of play, but there may still be some concern there.
So while Saban may deserve some of the criticism he’s faced over giving his thoughts about the controversial new rule proposal, let’s slow down before calling him selfish and self-serving.