First it was Nick Saban, then Florida coach Will Muschamp. Now, the latest high-profile coach to bash the spread offense is new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
Three successful, smart, influential coaches, all of whom are calling for rule changes to slow down the spread offense and give defenses a better opportunity to substitute, get a breather and avoid injury.
So what does it mean? Are they making valid points or are they grousing because they fear playing against teams who run up-tempo offenses? And if they do make valid points, will the NCAA rule committee do something about it?
Is the spread offense doomed?
The answers aren’t simple, because on the surface, it would appear that each of these coaches have some valid points.
Running more plays could lead to more injuries. Tired players also means more injuries. Yet at the same time, there is something patently ridiculous about their logic. Football is a violent game, and if you were really concerned about player injuries, wouldn’t these coaches be calling for less violent collisions and gentler tackling? Is their style of football somehow safer?
The fact is, each of these coaches run offenses that are slow, plodding and methodical, and have not always had the same level of success against spread offenses as they have against offenses similar to their own. Alabama lost to Texas A&M and eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel last year. Wisconsin lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl the year before. Will Muschamp is a fully defensive-minded coach. An argument could be made that their statements regarding the spread is self-serving and expresses their own apprehension about facing teams that run it.
Another factor in the debate is this: Teams with the spread also have defenses.
Those defenses have to face their offensive counterparts every single day in practice. Are these defenses experiencing abnormally large amounts of injuries dealing with the offenses? Not really.
In fact, it could be argued that these defenses are in much better shape than defenses from more traditional, ‘power football’ schools. You don’t hear players from these defenses complaining about having to face the spread, and they do it on a daily basis.
Another factor that could be driving coaches like Saban, Muschamp and Bielema to call for restrictions is that more recruits are leaving behind the traditional football schools in favor of programs that run up-tempo offenses. The spread is way more exciting than the pro-style set or the power formation, and young recruits want to play exciting football. Right now, the spread offense is in, and let’s face it, it is a hell of a lot sexier than the style of football the Big Ten plays.
Ten years ago, Oregon hardly ever caused a ripple in the recruiting ocean, despite their long-term success, but now, with their dazzling speed and explosive play-calling (not to mention uber-cool uniforms and world-class facilities), more and more recruits are choosing programs like the Ducks and turning their backs on the traditional schools. That has to drive coaches like Saban nuts.
Then there is the future of football, namely the looming playoffs slated to begin next year. If a team like Alabama is in the playoffs with two or three teams with spread offenses, there is a higher likelihood that they will not win the National Championship. Saban is a smart guy. Given a choice, he would much rather face a team like Notre Dame than a team like Oregon.
So is the spread offense doomed?
Not likely. Fans love it. It makes the game more exciting. It allows talented offensive players to truly flourish and meet their potential. Certainly the influence of Saban, Muschamp and Bielema will cause the NCAA to look into the matter, but the likelihood of rules being changed to slow it down are about as likely as the Ducks running nothing but the Power-I this year.
The spread offense is here to stay.