Nick Saban Is Wise to Try and Distance Himself from the 10-Second Rule

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 3, 2014

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanGerald Herbert/Associated Press

After nearly a month of silence on the subject, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has finally spoken on the controversial "10-second rule."

He's backpedaling faster than he did when he was a defensive back at Kent State.

The rule, which would prevent teams from snapping the ball within 10 seconds of the start of the 40-second play clock except in the final two minutes of each half, has received plenty of pushback from new-school coaches and administrators, including Saban's cross-state rival Gus Malzahn and Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs.

Saban spoke to the Georgia Minority Coaches Association on Friday night and explained his stance on the issue, according to Joel Erickson of

I had nothing to do with the idea of the 10-second rule, but the committee decided the 10-second rule because they took 12 games of three fastball teams: Oregon, Auburn, Texas A&M and I forget the fourth one, it might have been Baylor, I'm not sure.

And they said, OK, how many times did they snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock? It averaged four times a game, so you're really not changing.

That provides context to what his role in the creation of the rule was. According to USA Today's George Schroeder, Saban requested to speak to the playing-rules committee—which including Arkansas' Bret Bielema—on player safety while the proposal was being created. Bielema already came out strongly in favor of the rule despite the strong public opposition.

Saban went the road less traveled. He wisely tried to justify the mindset, the goals and offered possible alternatives to the 10-second rule—which South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier dubbed the "Saban rule" to Schroeder—which includes giving officials more power to control pace like NFL officials have.

The second thing is, can officials officiate the game? They're not in position when the ball is snapped, just like defensive players aren't in position when the ball is snapped, so that's a game administration issue that people should probably look into. 

That's not entirely true. 

Officials do slow the pace of play to make sure they are in the proper position to call the game. It even happened to Saban's benefit in the Iron Bowl, when Auburn put its foot on the gas in the second quarter and the umpire stood over the ball while the chains were set despite Auburn not substituting (1:19:20 mark).

Saban isn't digging his heels in lobbying for the rule itself, but he is pushing for several of its stated goals—including player safety. As was the case with Malzahn and Jacobs, Saban says that there aren't enough facts on whether players are at a significantly greater risk playing in no-huddle schemes.

In fact,'s study on pace of play suggested that games being played by larger players in tighter spaces puts players at more risk for injury.

Whether you're an old-school or new-school coach, keeping players healthy should always be job No. 1.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanDave Martin/Associated Press

So why's Saban backpedaling from the "Saban rule?" 

The controversy surrounding it stems from the rule itself coupled with the way it was conceived. Whether Saban had a say in the specifics of the proposed rule or not, he still played a part in the discussions—which angered several high-profile head coaches who feel that it was done behind their backs.

Now he's stepping back from the rule while attempting to shift the conversation in a similar, less controversial direction.

It's no secret what's at stake here. New-school coaches owe their jobs and their livelihoods to their schemes, as do defensive-minded, old-school coaches like Saban. Saban even admitted during the discussion on Friday night that part of the reason this conversation exists in the first place is selfish.

"And the third thing, to me, and the last thing, which is not the most important, I think the first is most important, is there any competitive imbalance created by the pace of play."

At least he's honest about it.

Hurry-up offenses prevent defenses from getting creative with their schemes, and they puts a priority on defenses simply lining up properly. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Saban, a coach who's made a career on being one step ahead on defense, becomes frustrated when he can't stay there during games.

Pace of play isn't creating a competitive imbalance, though. If anything, it's creating more balance.

Defenses get gassed during fast drives, but so do offenses. In an age where power football is being played out of the spread, you can't say that the same fatigue issues don't theoretically exist for pulling guards 10 yards down the field or offensive tackles taking defensive ends completely out of plays.

The rule will be presented to the NCAA playing rules oversight panel on March 6. If it doesn't pass, which will probably be the case since only rules pertaining to player safety can be changed this offseason and Saban himself said there is no scientific evidence pertaining to the subject, expect this to be the first of several battles between old-school and new-school coaches regarding pace of play.


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