This is normally the time of year when Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has a chance to catch his breath.
Maybe nine holes on the golf course in the afternoon, a little family bonding in the early evening and some alone time in the weight room with his headphones.
That plan was spoiled on Wednesday.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee recommended a rule change that struck too close to home for a coach who preaches an up-tempo style in everything his football team does.
The new rule, which still has to be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on March 6, would give defenses 10 seconds to substitute on every play. Offenses would not be able to snap the ball until 29 seconds remained on the play clock. The only exception would be the final two minutes of each half.
Currently, defenses can only substitute when offenses do first, and the offense can snap the ball at any point.
The coaches on the committee, who include Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Brett Bielema, among others, say the rule would help prevent injuries and keep players safe.
But no data was given to support the claim. Worse, the rule change was proposed with many coaches — including Rodriguez — knowing nothing about it.
“I didn’t know anything about it until someone from ESPN called and asked me what my reaction to the new rule was,” Rodriguez told the Star this week. “I immediately looked it up. That’s what is so crazy. We just got back-doored with this rule and there was no discussion at all amongst coaches.
“Normally you’d think we’ll get a poll, some opinion, but this was under the guise of public safety, so it got shoved through there, and to me it’s an absolute joke.”
So Rodriguez interrupted some of the only down time he gets all season and spoke out about the possible new rule. He did interviews with reporters around the country, went on national radio shows and even took to his little-used Twitter account to make his feelings known.
“There has never been a rule change that is more fundamentally wrong than if they pass this one,” Rodriguez said. “It changes the fundamental rules that football has had forever. On offense, you know where you’re going and when you’re going. On defense, you can move all 11 guys before the snap. Those are the fundamental things that the offensive and defensive advantages are.
“To eliminate one of them and say it’s public safety is ridiculous.”
UA’s quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith has spent six seasons coaching with Rodriguez, and also played for him at Glenville (W. Va.) State. Smith said he’s never seen Rodriguez angrier.
“This strikes home,” Smith said. “All of the other stuff you deal with because it’s part of it. But this strikes home. This strikes to what our core philosophy is. Not just on Saturday. We believe everything is up-tempo. From the way we train to the way we do everything.
“I have no clue where this rule comes into play. It makes zero sense to me.”
Rodriguez will spend the next two-plus weeks continuing to speak out, and said he will send as much information as he can gather on the topic to those involved. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is one of the members of the oversight panel; Rodriguez is hoping to be in touch with him before the vote occurs.
“I’m sure he’s getting hammered by phone calls, but I’ll probably still call him and hopefully I’ll try to see him before March 6,” Rodriguez said. “We’re also sending information to him. To enforce this rule, you’re messing with the game of football when it’s more popular, more people watching and attending than ever before. It’s not like the game is broke.”
The coach said he doesn’t track how many times his team snaps the ball before 29 seconds and doesn’t think it’s that often.
But to him, that’s not the point.
“We probably don’t snap it that quick a lot, but we have the option to, which is basic football,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve seen it over the years, some spread teams have won championships, some power teams have won. But that’s the beauty of the game, to allow the creativity of the game and allow guys to fit what they want to build their program around.”
Rodriguez doesn’t buy the safety angle, either. The Arizona boss said he’s confident his team hasn’t had more injuries because of its style; in fact, he thinks up-tempo football is actually safer.
“What is more dangerous? To run the Power and Iso and bang the snot out of each other for 25 minutes everyday, or spread people out and go faster?” Rodriguez asked. “If they want to theorize that when you get tired because of this tempo, your technique gets poor and when your technique gets poor, people get injured. Well, you can also theorize that when you have a fresher, faster player out there, the collisions will be more violent. And more violent collisions equal more injuries.”