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Bret Bielema uses player death as a way to promote defensive substitution rule

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has been at the forefront of a proposed rule change that would prevent offenses from snapping the ball for 10 seconds to allow defensive substitutions.

The proposed rule change, which proponents say is geared toward player safety, has been met with a lot of opposition and Bielema didn’t exactly help his cause on Thursday during his first public comments regarding the rule.

Bielema, who was speaking to the media before a meeting of the White County Razorback Club, claimed no-huddle offenses increased the risk of injury to players. He used the recent death of California football player Ted Agu, who died following an offseason conditioning workout, as a reason for changing the rule for player safety. Bielema claimed that if that situation had been presented in a game and he had no timeouts, he would have had no way to help his player.

"If one of those players is on the field for me, and I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game," Bielema said. "And he raises his hand to stop the game, and I can't do it. What am I supposed to do?

"What are we supposed to do when we have a player who tells us he's injured?"

When asked what proof Bielema had to show that no-huddle offenses increased injuries, Bielema had a quick answer:

"Death certificates," Bielema said. "There's no more anything I need than that."

To call Bielema’s comments melodramatic and inaccurate would not do them justice. There is no evidence to suggest that because Agu played in an up-tempo system at Cal that that somehow contributed to his death and to use Agu as a posterboy for this cause is insensitive and downright despicable.

Agu died several minutes after participating in a routine offseason conditioning workout. He showed no signs of strain during the workout and only after the workout did he mention to trainers that he wasn’t feeling well. It was an unfortunate accident, but one that has nothing to do with the type of system in which he plays.

Does Bielema really believe that if a player was in distress -- distress to the point where he might die -- that officals wouldn't stop the game?

There’s no doubt that college football -- all football -- could be safer. There’s no doubt that player safety should always be at the forefront of every discussion. However, the reason this proposed rule has come under such scrutiny is because there is no evidence to back up the claims that the faster pace leads to more injuries. Moreover, the coaches that seem to be spearheading this change are the ones that are having trouble adjusting to the speed of these offenses.

It’s not that this rule proposal doesn’t have some merit. Sure, more plays lead to more opportunities for injury and perhaps it’s something that needs to be examined. But football is a dangerous sport and an injury can occur on the first play of the game or the 100th. Not sure changing the pace of the game is going to make the game safer.

But using the unfortunate, sad and accidental death of a player – a player that was not even participating in a game at the time of his death – is not going to win Bielema any fans. If anything, it's going to turn people off to him even more.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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