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Hogs: Bielema stresses need for player safety

SEARCY — Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema said Thursday he is optimistic the NCAA playing rules oversight panel will approve a new rule to slow down up-tempo offenses.

Bielema, who spoke to the media before Thursday’s White County Razorback Club meeting at Searcy High School, said he believes the proposed rule change — which would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until 10 seconds have run off the 40-second play clock — could be a life-saving measure.

Bielema pointed to the recent death of California University football player Ted Agu during a training run as evidence why the rule is needed.

Bielema said there are a “half dozen” players on the Arkansas roster who, like Agu, tested positive for the sickle-cell trait. He said the 10-second delay would allow defenses to make the necessary substitutions if one of those players needed to get off the field.

“If one of those players is on the field for me, I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game, and he raises his hand to come out of the game and I can’t do it, what am I supposed to do?” Bielema said. “If we get to the point where we are flopping around on the ground like somebody did against us this year, then that is what you are going to force people to do.

“But if a kid wants to come out of the game because he can’t go any further, they have given us no other choice, so that is the whole agenda.”

Bielema said the proposed rule change is not a matter of offensive philosophy, but player safety. He stressed that the time to make the rule change is now, and not after tragedy strikes on a Saturday afternoon.

“If you look at the game of football, everyone is concerned about the injuries, the concussions and all of the negativity that is surrounding our game where you have the President of the United States say he wouldn’t let his son play football,” Bielema said. “You have someone pass on live TV, see how that affects youth football.”

Bielema attended the meeting in Indianapolis last week when the NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed the new rule, and he was a voting member on the NCAA rules committee for two years prior to this year. On Thursday, he made his first public comments since the proposal was introduced.

Bielema said he is optimistic the playing rules oversight panel will approve the rule when it votes on March 6.

“In all of the years I have been there, anything that has ever been player-safety driven, in my history there, has never been stopped,” Bielema said.

Many college football coaches who direct up-tempo offenses have lashed out against the new rule, including Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. But Bielema said he doesn’t expect the 10-second proposal to be much of a hindrance to those explosive offenses. Bielema said he even spoke out at last week’s meeting against other proposals to make the delay 12 or 15 seconds.

Bielema said he is not concerned that his opposition to the rule may come across as sour grapes. He said his only concern is player safety.

“I’m not talking about injuries, I’m talking about death. That concerns me,” Bielema said. “I understand the resistance, I understand the push-back. It’s not a philosophy with me, it’s a matter of safety, life and death. This is a philosophy I’ve had since the day I started in this business.”

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