The offenses are winning now. That seems to be the lunar phase football has been experiencing for most of this century. The SEC was presumed to be the last place on earth you could still see the football you remembered from your sepia-tone childhood, but not even Alabama can keep its foes under 40 anymore.
Nick Saban has rhetorically asked if this is what we want football to look like — the implication being we do not and the "governing bodies" need to intervene so that everybody can have fullbacks and middle linebackers with neck pads again.
Trouble is, the "governing bodies" don’t seem hip to that.
Defenses have to do something to slow the game long enough to make a substitution or two, so they fake injuries, like this:
Mostly, when offensive coaches have pointed this out, they have been subtle about it, but we now have an outright war of words going on in the Pac-12.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian accused Stanford players of faking injuries in a 31-28 Stanford win on Saturday, going so far as to accuse defensive line coach Randy Hart of telling which players to take a dive and when.
Faking injuries is not against the rules, and even if it was, establishing a fair enforcement mechanism would be difficult. This seems more like something that will be resolved, over time, out on the field. But it has started in the media.
Stanford coach David Shaw opened the Pac-12 teleconference Monday with an unsolicited message.
“We don’t fake injuries,” he said.” We never have. We never will. … I don’t care what Steve Sarkisian thinks what he saw."
Technically, Shaw kept Tosh Lupoi’s name out of his mouth, but it’s obvious that’s who he was talking about. In 2010, Lupoi, then at Cal, was suspended by the school (not the conference) for instructing players to fake injuries. Lupoi is now on Sarkisian’s staff at Washington.
Sarkisian says he saw that he saw.
“Reasonable minds can disagree,” he said.
And so reasonable college football coaches find themselves sitting on the horns of a dilemma. Flopping is as universally despised a strategy as there is in sports. Nobody wants it to be a common maneuver, but you can hardly blame a desperate defensive coach for exploiting some white space in the rule book, just as offenses have.
It doesn’t exactly jibe with the tenets of sportsmanship and fair play, but an exhausted defensive lineman not given the opportunity to sub out might argue that isn’t very sportsmanlike, either.
Any formal “flopping” rule with any teeth would likely be fitted with highly subjective, overly punitive enforcement measures, not unlike the new targeting penalties.
An easier fix would be to create a rule that gives defenses time to substitute. It could be as simple as requiring a certain amount of time to elapse between plays, except in certain situations (ends of halves, for example).
But that would be a bit of an upset. The arc of football history bends toward offense, and defenses just have to adjust.