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Tortoise Coaches Fighting Progress

Honest Abe Lincoln: “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”

I’m guessing the tall fella wouldn’t be much of a fan of Alabama or Arkansas football today, or any other program that sides with those supporting a proposal that would penalize teams for playing too fast.

Lincoln was born in Southeastern Conference country, in a place called Hodgenville, Ky., which rests along the Nolin River.

Funny. A few of the loudest opinions supporting the proposed rule are from the conference most agree is the nation’s best.

If it’s true that all progress depends on the unreasonable man, on the guy who wants the world to adapt to him and not him to it, college football soon could take one of those long strides backward that Lincoln refused to consider.

Spring drills are just around the corner for many programs, about the time an NCAA playing rules oversight panel will vote on a proposal that states a defense can substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, excluding the final two minutes of each half.

Translation: If teams such as Oregon or Auburn or Texas A&M or others are rolling along and fast-breaking themselves up and down the field for touchdowns, they now would be forced to stop and allow the defense an opportunity to insert fresh bodies within the first 10 seconds of the play clock before taking another snap.

There also are people who believe the best form of cross-country travel is still the horse and buggy.

No coach nationally holds the weight and influence of Nick Saban at Alabama, and it’s his contention that the new rule would help avoid injury to tired players. It’s my contention that he has found an excuse by which it makes the opposing side appear insensitive when debating.

Bret Bielema coaches Arkansas, and he took a pro-Saban stance to ridiculous levels recently, suggesting he had “death certificates” as proof that fast-paced offenses can lead to tragic results.

His comments were in reference to California defensive end Ted Agu, who died after a training run. You can imagine how well it went over in the Bay Area when Bielema used a player’s death to help support and defend his position in favoring the proposal.

He might as well have repainted the Giants locker room in Dodgers colors.

Bielema quickly apologized for his remarks, obviously realizing they were inappropriate and altogether ignorant.

He also expects the proposal to pass when voted on March 6.

A damn shame if true.

No coach in favor of the change — Saban, Bielema, anyone — can cite medical evidence linking no-huddle, hurry-up offenses to health concerns for defensive players.

No study exists. No scientific data. None. Not one shred of proof that pace of play endangers a player any more than the countless ways injury can occur on every snap of what is a physical, violent game.

The reason a death such as Agu’s makes national news is that, thankfully, such a tragedy is so rare given how many players dot the national map at all levels.

One death is too many, but trying to connect it and the potential for more catastrophic endings when defending up-tempo attacks is a reach the distance of Fayetteville to Finland.

This is a competitive issue. Bottom line. Alabama’s past three losses have come against Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma. All teams that play fast. All teams that have adopted a run-and-gun mentality in football.

King Saban likes losing about as much as Russians do stray dogs.

It’s also not coincidence that some of the best up-tempo offenses reside within the SEC, teams Saban and Bielema must prepare to stop weekly. I’m not suggesting that neither has a legitimate concern for player safety, but they have no evidence on which to stand in supporting the proposal.

Don’t be surprised if it passes. Saban has more juice than Sunkist. So instead of the number of up-tempo offenses rising in college football, instead of the product becoming even more entertaining to watch, the game will slow down because of those who prefer defense dictate games and are either unsure or unwilling to figure out how best to stop the Oregons of the college world.

Which is more likely to cause injury? Playing defense at a high rate of pace or having Alabama line up against the likes of Western Carolina or Georgia Southern or Chattanooga late in the schedule each season?

This proposal is a stupid idea.

Honest Abe Lincoln didn’t attend college.

If he had, I’m betting it wouldn’t have been to Alabama or Auburn.

He was all about progress.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com . Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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