EUGENE — Not surprisingly, the "Saban Rule" is not popular inside the Oregon football program.
Earlier this month, the NCAA rules committee proposed a change to allow defenses to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half. Offenses that snap the ball before 29 seconds remain on the play clock would receive a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.
After hearing about the proposal, which was brought to the committee by Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema, the first thing Mark Helfrich did was turn on the film to determine how often the rule would impact Oregon's up-tempo offense.
"That would affect us a ton. A lot," Helfrich said after re-watching several games from the 2013 season when the Ducks led the Pac-12 in scoring (45.5 ppg) and the offense averaged a play every 20.15 seconds. "We want to be able to snap it for sure, and we want to certainly have the appearance that we can snap it."
Troy Calhoun, the rules committee chairman, originally stated the change would be made to "enhance student-athlete safety." The Air Force coach backpedaled quicker than any of his cornerbacks after receiving backlash from peers around the country who were blindsided by the proposal.
"I think the only way that it can or it should become a rule is if it is indeed a safety concern," Calhoun said on a conference call with reporters last week. "And that can't be something that's a speculation or a possibility."
Helfrich doesn't talk about injuries during the season, but while knocking on his wood desk in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, he notes that the Ducks have remained relatively healthy during this run of six consecutive 10-win seasons. That includes the defensive players who practice against the "blur" offense's warp speed week after week.
"The veil of player safety is unfortunate and misguided," Helfrich said. "I don't think there's any player-safety rule that changes depending on what time of the game it is. They're saying it isn't player safety in the last few minutes of the game, but it is throughout the rest of the time. That just doesn't make sense. It's not like you can just target in the middle of the third quarter, but the last two minutes you can't. That's not player-safety driven."
Bielema didn't help his argument for the rule change by using California linebacker Ted Agu, who died on Feb. 7 after collapsing following a training run with his teammates, as an example of why the game needs to be slowed down.
"Bret Bielema's comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive," Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour posted on her Twitter account after attending Agu's funeral. "Using the tragic loss of one of our student-athletes as a platform to further a personal agenda in a public setting is beyond inappropriate."
South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, never one to shy away from an opportunity to verbally jab an SEC rival, labeled the proposed change the "Saban Rule." Alabama's defensive-minded head coach struggled to slow down the Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M offenses the past two seasons and will enter 2014 on a two-game losing streak against up-tempo spread teams (Auburn, Oklahoma).
"I think it was a couple guys that were trying to change the rule," Helfrich said. "We'll see."
The proposal will need approval from the playing rules oversight panel, which is scheduled to formally consider the rule change on March 6.
Oregon's second-year head coach, who is coming off an 11-2 season and returning 10 starters on offense, is expecting to be able to go full speed ahead when spring drills begin on April 1.
"I would be shocked if that passed," Helfrich said. "We lost to a hurry-up team (Arizona) and we lost to a slow-down team last year. We can't complain that Stanford milked the clock and ran the ball on us. We need to stop them. It's not a rule change. We need to coach it better and play it better and get better this time of year."