BELLA VISTA — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has helped fuel another college football debate. This time, it revolves around spread offenses.
A story that appeared on AL.com on Monday indicated Bielema pitched a plan to the NCAA rules committee aimed at slowing fast-paced attacks. The proposal, which he revealed in an interview during the SEC spring meetings, was framed as a player safety issue and calls for a 15-second substitution period after every first down.
Bielema was asked about it again Friday during a media opportunity before playing in the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club’s Celebrity Golf Scramble. The first-year coach said he doesn’t have a problem with the “time of pace” of attacks run by Southeastern Conference foes like Auburn and Ole Miss. His only concern is safety.
“It is kind of been an evolving topic that has been brought up the last couple of years,” Bielema said Friday. “I know I wasn't the first SEC coach to comment on it. All that was brought up with the rules committee was, ‘Is there a point in time where you have to look at the safety of the players, the student-athletes, who could be on the field for a projected longer amount of time?’”
Bielema used defensive tackles as a specific example, saying he prefers to rotate the “heavier players who maybe would be at the most stressed physically.” It’s nearly impossible to do against the spread, which ditches huddles and stresses tempo.
Bielema does have one prominent ally in Alabama coach Nick Saban, who created headlines when he raised concerns about the spread last season. But it’s no surprise Bielema’s idea of a solution has been met with opposition this week.
In fact, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was asked about Bielema’s thoughts during an appearance on ESPN’s College Football Live on Thursday. Rodriguez, who coached against Bielema in the Big Ten while at Michigan, described the huddle as the “biggest waste of time in football” during his appearance.
"Well, Bret is a terrific coach and a great friend,” Rodriguez said. “I don't know if those comments are maybe self-serving a little bit from a standpoint that those guys don't want to face that. But he’s had success against it. It's still 11 on 11.
“Certainly the rules favor the offense as far as substitution goes. But fair? It’s still 11 on 11. I didn't hear people talking about it being fair or unfair when the Buffalo Bills were using (tempo) with the old K-Gun offense and going to a Super Bowl."
Rodriguez also didn’t buy the player safety concerns, adding that there haven’t been any concerns raised about up-tempo basketball. But Bielema maintained his stance.
“I love Rich Rod,” Bielema said. “I know he saw those comments (Thursday), and he prefaced his by saying ‘Bret's a good ball coach and I prefaced that as well.’
“The last time we met, we ran the ball 32 straight times, you know, and we huddled as long as we could. It's just one of those things where it's a difference in philosophy. And the only thing I'm overly concerned about that I'll always maintain to be true is the personal well-being and safety of our student-athletes.”