Bret Bielema goes further with support for substitution proposal, cites sickle cell trait

Dr. Saturday

Bret Bielema sure isn't backing down from his support of the 10-second substitution proposal in college football.

On Thursday, Bielema used the term "death certificates" to staunchly state his advocation before a meeting with the White County Razorback Club. Friday, Bielema spoke with Sports Illustrated to "clarify" his comments. He was referencing the death of Cal player Ted Agu, who died Friday, Feb. 7 after a conditioning drill. No cause of death has been given.

The Arkansas coach was in the room when the NCAA rules committee discussed a rule proposal that would give defenses 10 seconds to substitute before each play and penalize offenses for snapping the ball too quickly. The alteration will be officially voted on March 6 by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

"The reason I brought up the Cal player is this: We all have sickle cell players. To me, it's the most scary individual thing we face. There are no signs. There are no indicators. You test every one of your players when they come in. And there are players who come in that have no idea they have it. Then you've got to call the parents, sit the kid down and talk to them what it means -- what the possibilities of things happening are. It's a scary deal."

It's imperative to note that Cal has not confirmed if Agu had sickle cell trait, which causes the body to have an abnormal shape of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Those with sickle cell trait can be more susceptible to rhabdomyolysis and heat stroke after hard exercise.

"When this whole safety issue came up, everybody's thinking you're talking about knee injuries or hamstrings. I'm talking about the concussion crisis, sickle cell trait. This one [sickle cell trait] really scares you because you don't know when it's coming. The kids have difficulty breathing. They don't want to come out of practice or the game. All the ones I've ever been around, they want to stay in because they don't want their teammates to think they're quitting or stopping. What we began to rationalize is that when these players pass when they're involved in these conditioning drills, they pull themselves out of it or the trainer pulls them out of it because they're having difficulties. What if you're in the middle of the third or fourth quarter and you know that the kid standing 15 yards away from you or on the other side of the field has this trait. He's got this built-in possibility of something happening. Your doctors have told you about it. Your trainers have told you about it. He looks at you through those eyes or maybe the trainer even says, "Hey coach, you need to get him out of there." And you can't. You have no timeouts. He's not going to fake an injury. He's not going to fall down"

If a player is struggling, it is entirely possible to get a fatigued player off the field, no matter the timeout situation or the tempo of an offense. A college football player won't suddenly go from fresh to fatigued in a single play.

Therefore, if a player does need to be subbed out of a game immediately, coaches can have a replacement ready to run on the field as soon as the current play is blown dead. The ball isn't immediately spotted and ready for play right after the whistle blows.

Or, if player safety is as much of a serious scenario as Bielema says it could be, what's the harm in taking a five-yard penalty for too many players on the field to stop the game if a player is too stubborn to leave the field? Five yards is nothing compared to a player that could be facing a serious situation.

As Graham Watson said yesterday, this isn't a position that is going to win Bielema any fans, and to this point, no other coaches have publicly supported the proposal. (Alabama coach Nick Saban was in the room with Bielema as the proposal was being discussed.)

The main reason for that lack of support? A lack of evidence backing the proposal, though Bielema is certainly trying to change that. However, it's an argument that feels cold rather than convincing.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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