Bret Bielema's Only Hurting Himself with Crusade Against Hurry-Up Offenses

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 18, 2015

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I'll get this out of the way right out of the gate: I like Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.

A lot.

He's always willing to chat when asked, will always drop in a casual one-liner or two and doesn't operate in the boring land of coachspeak like so many of his college football colleagues.

I find him a genuinely nice person who is entertaining, engaging, interesting and refreshingly honest.

Sometimes, though, that last quality gets muddled in a quest to slow the game of college football under the disguise of player safety.

Bielema saddled back up on his high horse and railed against hurry-up offenses on Wednesday in the wake of the abrupt retirement of former San Francisco 49er and Wisconsin Badger (under Bielema) linebacker Chris Borland.

"We have to protect student-athletes to extremes we never thought of before," Bielema told Sporting News' Matt Hayes. "I just read a study that said players in the no-huddle, hurry-up offense play the equivalent of five more games than those that don’t. That’s an incredible number. Our awareness as a whole has to increase."

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema
Arkansas head coach Bret BielemaWesley Hitt/Getty Images

And, with that, the 10-second rule—which I predicted would pop back up this offseason—is right back in the center of the national discussion.

If Bielema is so concerned with the number of games, plays and how they relate to player safety, then why did he say this inside the radio/Internet room at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama in 2014?

Barrett Sallee @BarrettSallee

Bielema on the four-team playoff: "It's a great starting point. Rome wasn't built in a day."

If the four-team playoff is a "good starting point," then those two extra games—and potentially more extra games in an expanded playoff structure—are safety hazards, right?

Bielema can't have his cake and eat it too.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema
Arkansas head coach Bret BielemaWesley Hitt/Getty Images

In the midst of the first "10-second-rule" hubbub, Dave Bartoo of CFBMatrix.com posted a fascinating study last year that suggests player weight in tight spaces creates a far greater injury risk than the number of plays run.

In that study, Bartoo found that the 20 fastest teams in college football in 2012 averaged 83.12 plays per game and lost 143 starts due to injury. The 20 slowest teams ran 65.85 plays per game and lost 151 starts due to injury.

Guess which team became synonymous with one of the biggest offensive lines in the country last season?

Arkansas, at 320.8 pounds per player. That, incidentally, would have been the third-largest in the NFL as of early September 2014, according to LubbockOnline.com.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema
Arkansas head coach Bret BielemaWesley Hitt/Getty Images

I believe that Bielema truly cares about player safety, feels for Borland and wants to make the game safer not just for the good of this generation, but for generations to come. For that, he should be applauded.

Until he comes up with more proof other than "more plays equals more injury risk," he's not really arguing against hurry-up, no-huddle offenses, advocating player safety or championing the "10-second rule," which would prevent offenses from snapping the ball within 10 seconds of the previous play ending.

All he's doing is arguing against the sport of football—a sport in which he makes his living.

Ralph D. Russo @ralphDrussoAP

A thought on Bielema: I have no doubt his heart is in the right place, but it's tough to sell a "solution" that requires no self-sacrifice.

Whether you call this a contact sport, a collision sport or give the game of football any other moniker out there, players put themselves in danger every time they buckle up the chin strap. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be tweaked to make players safer.

It should, and everybody—including coaches who employ hurry-up, no-huddle offenses—agree.

"Is there documented medical evidence that supports this rule change that tempo offenses are putting players at a higher degree of risk than others? If there is, then show it to us," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach last year. "Where is it? They're going to have to show us some evidence."

Simply saying "more football is a danger" when there's no other specific evidence to prove it won't cut it, especially when there is a statistical analysis that states that player size in space matters more than the quantity of plays.

Bielema likely believes that fast-paced offenses put players at a greater injury risk, and that's why this crusade continues.

It's only making him look foolish, though, because what he's really doing is biting the hand that feeds him—the sport of football.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


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