California Golden Bears: Is The ‘Saban Rule’ Really About Player Safety?


Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban yells in the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Oklahoma defeated Alabama 45-31. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The California Golden Bears have been in the news recently when a recent tragedy crossed paths with another coach using it to try and further his agenda. Following the tragic death of Ted Agu, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema stuck is foot in his mouth by citing the death in his pursuit of “player safety.” Bielema has been the vocal force behind a rule proposal to limit the no-huddle, hurry-up offense to just in the final two minutes of each half. The rule would prevent offenses from snapping the ball before 29 seconds remaining on the play, which is to allow the defense to be able to substitute before every play or be assessed a five-yard penalty.

Coaches like Bielema and Alabama head coach Nick Saban have stated that the hurry-up offense preventing the defense from substituting leads to more injuries among defenders, despite no evidence proving their claims. Despite Bielema being the vocal cheerleader, the true driving force behind rule is Saban and other coaches have taken notice. The Ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier, was quoted in a press conference by calling the rule the “Saban Rule.”

The “Saban Rule” is being championed as a way to promote player safety and that has caught the attention of many prominent college coaches, including Sonny Dykes:

Dykes is suggestion that Saban is using his clout and connections to bend the game to his own preference. The innuendo coming from the other coaches is that Saban does not want to coach against these offense and wants to slow down the game to give his teams an advantage, but why would a coach of his caliber need to give himself an advantage?

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has an answer for that. In an interview with the Outside the Lines podcast, Kingsbury was asked if the rule was an honest consideration for player safety or for his own selfish interests and he responded with, “the last three losses that he’s had had have been against up-tempo teams. I’ll leave it at that.” Those teams are Texas A&M, which Kingsbury was quarterbacks coach, Auburn and Oklahoma.

Kingsbury’s sentiments make the most sense and I feel that it is the most likely scenario. Saban’s Alabama teams have a major advantage in the amount of talented players they have. Alabama’s roster is loaded with five star athletes, which gives them amount of depth that no other team can match. The no-huddle offense does not allow them to substitute, which does not allow use that depth and keep their starters fresh throughout the game. It helps to level the playing field that Saban had already tilted in his favor.

Forcing the offenses to let the defense to substitute will give even more power to the power teams that can lure top-flight talent to their schools. Saban knows his teams are the most talented and he wants to exploit that advantage, under the guise of player safety. Meanwhile, Bielema is coaching for his coaching life and knows that bringing the playing field down to his level is the only way to save his job.

Coach Dykes was completely right in that this farce is about player safety. It is about lazy coaches want to limit offensive creativity to give themselves a personnel advantage over smaller schools. With enough coaches willing to stand up and denounce this rule proposal, it looks like this will be nothing more than a proposal. This looks like Saban is going to lose for a fourth time to the hurry-up, no-huddle offense.