The Big 12 will have an eighth official on the field this year with one primary purpose – to spot the ball. That’s how offensively oriented the league has become. While the Big 12 annually boasts the nation’s best collection of quarterbacks and the debate over the past few years has been “SEC defense versus Big 12 offense,” the decision announced last week should take the disparity between the Big 12 and everyone else to another level. Ironically, the man who first suggested bringing on the extra official (Bill Snyder) is the coach that could be most negatively impacted.
I’m not here to argue the merits of the speedball we’re seeing in football these days. It’s undoubtedly gotten faster. The NFL’s response has been to slow it down – Chip Kelly was specifically told last week that NFL officiating crews, not the Eagles, would dictate the tempo of games and choose when to make the ball live (while Philly fans collectively groaned and realized their experiment was going to fail within a year, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady said, “duh…” – no seriously, they did. They’ve been hamstrung by the NFL for years now and pointed out that Kelly wouldn’t have been surprised by this if he was paying attention). Getting back to NCAA football, I don’t need to remind K-State fans of what Oregon’s offense has become in recent years. Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Texas Tech have all significantly picked up their pace and West Virginia came into the league hiking the ball every 15 seconds. The speed has become torrid.
So five of the 25 teams in the country able to get off more than 990 plays played in the Big 12. Comparatively, only former Big 12 member Texas A&M did so in the SEC. The change has been so significant that Snyder was bothered by the inability of defenses to substitute. That’s what the NFL told Kelly – if you substitute a player, we’re allowing the defense time to substitute a player. Yet the Big 12 came back and agreed to add an official on the field for the purposes of getting the ball spotted and ready to hike as quickly as possible (other responsibilities may include watching the offensive tackle and potential hits on the quarterback as the official will be situated in the back field, but that’s a pretty minimal role after the ball is hiked).
As K-State fans, we shouldn’t have any prima facie concerns here – it’s still an even playing field and the Wildcats can take just as much advantage of the rules as the next team. But aside from the concerns for player safety (let’s just assume this is a given – if something increases a player’s chances of incurring harm, I am opposed to it and you should be too. The NCAA will also be opposed assuming it does not impact the bottom line), K-State is at the greatest strategic disadvantage with this rule change.
The first concern is K-State’s depth at secondary. When Oklahoma State starts sending waves of wide receivers downfield, then substituting them for another wave, over and over, K-State must respond with a group of tired and inexperienced defensive backs. But that’s a talent issue, and not the primary concern. The primary concern is that this is not how K-State plays football. For a team built on the virtues of hard work and patience, the Big 12 as a whole is committed to asserting itself as the conference of flash.
I love watching the Wildcats on offense, and not just because Collin Klein was majestic. Snyder makes football a chess match, lining up, spotting the mismatch, and exploiting it. While K-State is being coached by Garry Kasparov, the rest of the Big 12 is playing friggin’ Hungry Hungry Hippos and just trying to swallow as many balls as possible.
Note to self: highly suggest you revisit this metaphor. Chess vs. Hungry Hungry Hippos? Methinks you can do better.
The point is, K-State plays a methodical game, and doesn’t need the ball spotted in measures of milliseconds during the first quarter like Art Briles demands. I went back and found the number of plays each team ran during conference play last year, and the disparities are pretty stark. While some deviation is expected for teams that regularly go three-and-out or rely on deep strikes over slow grinds, you would expect to see the best teams run the most plays because they hold the ball longer. Yet this is how the breakdown actually falls:
This isn’t just a difference – it’s a big disparity. Major Applewhite is the co-offensive coordinator at Texas and assumed play-calling duties after Big 12 play ended in 2012. He has vowed to speed up Texas’s offense to more closely resemble Baylor or Oklahoma. The rest of the conference is looking to leave K-State behind. Arguments as to whether this change is good for the game or good for the fans can go on elsewhere. What’s indisputable is that about half of this conference is vying for a Big 12 Championship this year, and five of those six teams with a realistic shot just got a new rule to help their offenses, while EMAW nation must hope it doesn’t get left behind.