Football coaches across America are fighting a battle for their own livelihoods and the soul of the game, and they are being less and less subtle about it.
This is an oversimplification of something that has been going on for 10-15 years, but there are two camps. There are the Nick Sabans of the world, who have made their name on a style of football that tries to make the game about the line of scrimmage, and there are the Kevin Sumlins of the world, who have made their name on reducing the importance of the line of scrimmage.
Those two coaches are only examples, but you can see why the guy with the strongest pipeline to the biggest, fastest linemen in America would not support a hurry-up spread game, and you can see why someone who has made his whole career on the spread offense would want to protect it.
Well, there was a time when the hurry-up opponents just tried to snuff this thing out with brute force, and it can be done. Saban has succeeded at it, but the counterculture still exists, and keeps getting stronger, and it looks like it’s time to play dirty. It appears football coaches have figured out how to slow down a spread offense, and they’re barely even worried about keeping up pretenses anymore.
Just fake an injury, baby.
Just this last weekend, Georgia and Northwestern players were accused of taking dives to slow down Clemson and Cal, respectively. Tuesday, former NFL linebacker Brian Urlacher said the Chicago Bears actually had a designated "dive guy."
There isn’t even any shame about it.
Shoot, Jerome Simpson has added this to his skillset, like he’s learning a spin move or something.
I don’t want to call this a recent development, because when it gets right down to it, it’s just a shenanigan. And in sports there is always some kind of a shenanigan going on. But it being so out in the open, it being something guys aren’t even embarrassed about? That’s new.
And the reason it’s new is that defensive people think offensive people are cheating. They didn’t used to think that, but they do now. The years of rule changes making it more and more illegal to play defense, combined with the frustration of dealing with these offenses that make it impossible to sub, has caused a lot of defensive-minded coaches and player to conclude that the game is rigged against them, and this is their way of fighting horse crap with horse crap.
The way they talk about it, this is a battle for the soul of football.
“I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking is this what we want football to be?" Saban said last year.
You think I’m being melodramatic about it.
“I think they’re cheating,” Dave Campo he told the Kansas City Star this week. “I’m a Nick Saban fan; Nick Saban says it’s ruining football.”
Campo is a coaching lifer. He’s the defensive coordinator at Kansas now, but his coaching career goes back to 1971. He spent most of the last three decades in the NFL, peddling the wares of a guy who could get linebackers to listen when he’d say to be aggressive but watch for the play action. He’s the coca leaf guy, and you’re trying to take the coca out of Coca-Cola.
If you’re losing, they must be cheating, right?
I’m not trying to criticize Campo, or any of these other guys I’ve mentioned. I certainly don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” way to play football. I’m just trying to point out that most of the people you’ll see talking about this stuff have something to gain or lose from it.
That doesn’t mean Campo is wrong. We do have to acknowledge that there are always unintended consequences when you mess with an ecosystem. And the word “football” has to mean something, doesn’t it? If they took off the pads and made the ball round, we wouldn’t be watching football anymore would we? If we’re going to call something that, we have to be in agreement about some essential concepts.
What’s up for debate here is whether one of those concepts is trench physicality. Is that essential to what we mean when we say “football” and want to watch it?
Hard to say yet. But the game sure isn’t getting any less popular.