Bielema’s Searcy Q&A On Pace of Play

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was in Searcy last night, where he spoke publicly for the first time about last week’s NCAA Football Rules Committee proposal aimed at slowing down offenses. Bielema was in attendance for those discussions as a non-voting member of the committee.

There’s no debate which side of the fence Bielema is on. He has been a proponent of slowing things down for years because of what he insists are player safety issues and has been a vocal leader for the cause along with Alabama’s Nick Saban. So there was no shock he supports the proposal, but his comments still generated a huge reaction after referencing the recent death of California football player Ted Agu.

Bielema also was asked later about the fact opponents to the proposal believe there’s no hard evidence or data to back up the claims that hurry-up, no-huddle offenses increase the risk of injuries in the game.

“Death certificates,” Bielema said. “There’s no more I need than that.”

I wasn’t in Searcy last night, but Harris Keegan from the Daily Citizen was covering the event for our newspapers and filed this story. I was able to find a video of the press conference online — which was posted to KNWA’s website — to watch it for myself. After doing so, I thought it would be a good idea to transcribe and post the portion of the question-and-answer session covering the pace of play topic.

So below are the questions and Bielema’s responses:

Q: What’s your reaction to the pace of play proposal:

“You know what, the last time I talked to (Air Force coach) Troy (Calhoun) was when we were in that meeting. Obviously, I wasn’t in the room when the room was voting. So all I know is what was said during that discussion, all that goes into it. The ironic part of it, there was a proposal for 15 seconds, 12 seconds and 10 seconds, and I was the one who told them they should move it to 10.

“I’ll go back to, the only thing that runs through my mind is that there’s a situation in college football, almost three weeks ago, a player from California died after a workout. The player had sickle-cell trait. I have half a dozen players on my team currently that have that trait and we train our medical staff and we train our people that if they put themselves in a position where they have played a lot or conditioned a lot, they don’t even know what’s beginning to happen. They have difficulty breathing. Look for the signs, which you put your hands over your head, do different things. And we’re very wired into it because it is something that has been pretty prevalent over the past couple of years. If a player begins to do that, you are supposedly to obviously cease immediately. You don’t do anything. So if you’ve got them in a workout, you pull them aside. The player in California, they were actually talking to him. He walked off the field and began to communicate with them. And then several minutes later, he was dead. We have players in that same situation.

“If one of those players is on the field for me, I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game and he raises his hand to come out of the game and I can’t do it, what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do when we have a player that tells us he’s injured. If we want to get to the point where we’re flopping around on the ground like somebody did against us this year, then that is what you’re going to force people to do. But if a kid wants to come out of the game because he can’t go any further, they have given us no other choice, so that’s the whole agenda item.”

Q: Speaking of the flopping incident this year, with regards to (Auburn) coach (Gus) Malzahn, the other day he said something to the effect of he’d like to table it for a year and actually have discussions. Is that something you are open to?

A: “Again, I’ve been on that rules committee for three years. The first couple I was a voting member. This year I wasn’t. All you can do is talk about the proposals and what was in front of us. I think if you look at the game of football, everyone is concerned about the injuries, the concussions and all of the negativity that is surrounding our game where you have the President of the United States say he wouldn’t let his son play football. You have someone pass in the game of football on live TV, see how that affects youth football.

Q: So you want it now?

A: “I think that the people that spoke … We don’t always make popular decisions. A year ago, we made a rule that ejected people for targeting. No one really, really liked it, but it changed the behavior of players. It changed the game in a positive way, and I don’t see why we would want to stop doing it.”

Q: Some say there’s no hard evidence, no data, what would be your reaction to that?

A: “Death certificates. There’s no more I need than that. If I sit there in a home and I recruit a young man and I tell him and his parents, ‘Hey, I’m going to look out for the personal well being of your son academically and athletically, I’m never going to put him in harms way. Oh, by the way, he also has the sickle-cell trait and if he is involved in a game that I can’t get him out of, what am I supposed to do?”

Q: But there is the rule that if you are injured you can fall to the ground and get out of the game …

A: “If you’re wired like those kids, they don’t do that. They don’t want you to take … Every kid that I’ve ever been involved with that, he doesn’t want you to take them out of workouts. Because he’s not feeling it, and then all of a sudden it’s too late.”

Q: There’s a perception out there that this was under the radar until it got to the committee. What were the discussions like with you and maybe coach Saban and some of the other coaches behind this?

A: “Not one. Not one. The first time it was discussed was a year ago. That was the first time I’ve ever heard it discussed was a year ago at the rules committee meeting. And then when I was at the rules committee meeting at the American Football Coaches Association in January, I believe it was Monday, Jan. 13, was when it was discussed again and said it was going to be the topic of the rules committee. And everybody else was entitled to be there.”

Q: The backlash. You’ve got (Oklahoma State coach) Mike Gundy saying ‘boring.’ What’s your reaction to that? Do you feel like it has turned into a philosophical battle?

A: “No, I think it’s still a safety battle. I can’t believe anybody would be in a situation that I just described. I know every one of those coaches probably has a player in that same scenario. But it hasn’t happened. It’s kind of like, well, do we have to have this happen before we talk about it? Does someone have to go through that scenario? Does a school have to go through that? Does an institution? Does a family? I bet you if you talk to, I think there’s been a dozen player deaths in the last 12 years. If you talk to their families, my guess is they would want to talk to you about that in a very poignant way.”

Q: It doesn’t sound like just 10 seconds is all that much time. But you think that 10 seconds is a big enough window to get guys out of there?

A: “Absolutely, again, because they were talking 15 and 12 and 10, and I said10 is going to be adequate. I thought if we went 12 or 15, it would affect the game. Simply because the information that we were given was that they had tracked the games of several up-tempo teams and there was only two or three snaps in the two games that they monitored that were under 10 seconds.”

Q: The perception is that it is a philosophical battle between old school and the new hurry-up. Those guys that are against it, they don’t want their players to get hurt either. Do you have any idea why they’d be so against it?

A: “I’m not talking about injuries, I’m talking about death. That concerns me. That’s a very serious matter to me. And I think that the fact that if we talk to any coach in the country that’s going to talk against that, I would doubt very much that they would do it openly. I understand the resistance, I understand the push back. It’s not a philosophy with me. It’s a matter of safety, life and death.

Q: Other than Nick Saban, who are some of the other guys who have come to your corner?

A: “I didn’t talk to coach Saban. I didn’t talk to … This is a philosophy I’ve had since the day I started in this business. Again, it’s not a philosophy. My style on offense is hurry-up or no-huddle, whatever you want to call it, my philosophy has always been in the best interest of our players. As a rules committee, they’re supposed to protect that. And I don’t think there’s anybody that would get off that topic.”

Q: What did Nick have to say when he addressed the room?

A: “As a rules committee, we don’t ever discuss anything that’s ever said in that environment.”

Q: Do you think it will pass March 6?

A: “You know, of all the years I’ve been there, there was a rule last year that didn’t carry forward that was something to do with uniforms that the committee tabled. But anything that has ever been player-safety driven has never, in my history there, has never been stopped.”

Q: One more on pace of play, you said you’ve never seen a safety issue not pass. Have you ever seen a safety issue have this much resistance?

A: “I think the safety issue, or the resistance to it, are people that are turning a blind eye to the facts. All I know is there was some data that was provided about the number of hits that someone takes increases the chance of concussions. The part we did look at specifically was, for instance, if we play a team like Alabama, our snaps in that game I think were 65 defensive snaps. When we go to a game of high up-tempo, everything was over 80 snaps. So you are playing more snaps, so one would tell you — without being too much of a mathematical genius — is as you have more snaps, that chances are going to go up. Now there’s not anything out there that they’re out there studying. There’s nothing statistical in front of us except for some studies that were done at Virginia Tech and I believe the other one … I can’t remember where the other one was.”

Q: Does it bother you that it is being presented as sour grapes?

A: “It doesn’t bother me in any way shape or form. Because I can look at myself and tell everybody that I felt good about trying to save someone’s terrible situation.”