Cutcliffe blindsided by 10-second rule change bid

Feb. 14, 2014 @ 06:51 PM

Being named national coach of the year by eight different organizations last season didn’t help Duke’s David Cutcliffe gain any more advance warning about a possible NCCA rules change than anyone else this week.

Having turned Duke football into a winning program by using a no-huddle offense, Cutcliffe is just as angry as many of his fellow coaches around the country that the NCAA has proposed a rules change aimed at slowing the tempo of play.

“All of the coaches that I have spoken with, and there have been numerous, we felt blindsided by this,” Cutcliffe said Friday.

On Wednesday, the NCAA rules committee proposed a change that would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds had run off the 40-second play clock.

The rule would allow defenses time to make a substitution without the offense changing players — as is currently required — and with no fear the ball will be snapped before 29 seconds are left on the play clock. An exception will be made for the final two minutes of each half, when the offense can snap the ball as quickly as it wants.

Over the last two years, Alabama coach Nick Saban has spoken out against the trend of higher-tempo offenses.

In a statement following Wednesday’s rules committee vote, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said player safety was the main issue.

“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” Calhoun said in a statement. “As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”

But Cutcliffe said he thinks the rules change is more about coaching philosophy than player safety.

“I think it does run along the lines of philosophy, which to me is the problem,” Cutcliffe said. “To me the issue should be player safety and I’m always going to listen in that regard.”

Though utilizing a no-huddle offense, Duke isn’t even among the highest-tempo teams in the country. While going 10-4 last season, the Blue Devils averaged 73.5 offensive plays per game last season, which was No. 65 among 125 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Texas Tech led the country in that category, averaging 90.3 plays per game.

Cutcliffe isn’t convinced this proposed rule change would make things any safer and wonders why the game would revert to the existing rules in the final two minutes.

“If this is about player safety, I don’t understand why it would be ok to change the rhythm of the game in the two-minute period,” Cutcliffe said.

But Cutcliffe’s problem with this week’s move is how it came about. He attended the American Football Coaches Association’s convention in Indianapolis in January. He sad Friday that a large number of issues surrounding the game — from recruiting to safer tackling to practice models — were discussed during the main coaches meeting.

The proposed rules change to slow down tempo was never mentioned.

“You would think if this was something that was going to be moved to the vote of the football rules committee, that is going to affect us in the coaching community, it would have been on the docket,” Cutcliffe said.

The NCAA’s playing rules oversight committee is scheduled to discuss the possible rules change on March 8. In the meantime, coaches from around the country will have a chance to express their opinions.

“I just hope there is some form of fair due process here,” Cutcliffe said. “We have to be careful in how we are changing the game.”

But mostly, Cutcliffe said, he doesn’t want rules changes to catch him or the rest of the head coaches off guard.

“I was shocked to hear something that I had no idea about was on their agenda (for the rules committee),” Cutcliffe said. “When I heard about it, it was already approved by the rules committee. That shocked me.”