HOOVER — It’s hard to decide what sounds more absurd in the debate about pace offenses in college football and what to do about them.
There’s the laughable notion that attempts to regulate pace offenses were ever about player safety. That was a way to meet the player-safety requirement for working changes into an off year in the two-year rules cycle, and collective national laughter got the proposal tabled.
But now we have the absurd-sounding “crisp jog,” which is how officials around the county will adapt to pace offenses as rules makers and pro-and-con coaches create their cacophony ahead of 2015 changes.
Laugh at the sound, but the sound of absurdity has a way of bringing about change.
The “crisp jog” entered college football discourse Wednesday as SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw announced it during his annual address at league media days.
Officials around the country must manage trendy pace offenses, so coordinators of officials got together and made it a point of emphasis this offseason. Or they want to give the appearance of handling it, so they’ve settled on the retreat position of consistency.
To that end, officials will strive for more consistency in their mechanics. Enter the “crisp jog.”
“The rule today says, when the ball is ready, the offense can snap it,” Shaw said. “So here is what we’re telling nationally to all our officials. … What we’re saying is when the play is dead, the umpire or the person spotting the ball, you will not walk, and you will not sprint. We’re calling it a ‘crisp jog.’
“We’re trying to get all of our umpires on the same page on a crisp jog.”
For those reconciling visions of marginally conditioned referees jogging crisply, Shaw mentioned that SEC officials will undergo preseason conditioning tests next week in Birmingham.
“They will be hoping for weather like we have today, but they won't get it,” he said during his opening remarks.
Shaw also said the SEC will experiment with an eighth official. One crew will have a “center judge” all season, and his job will be to spot the ball and interact with the referee on substitutions.
There’s actually logic in all of this, but logic sadly fades amid the sound of absurdity.
It’s not as absurd as the notion that the 10-second proposal was ever about player safety.
“We came from the Big 12,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “The Big 12 has been doing the fast‑paced thing for the last seven years. I think most coaches will tell you, they probably play faster in that league than anywhere. I don't know where all this started with.
“I just know this, OK: never once in all those years in the fastest league I think that plays football in the Big 12 did I have my team doctor, my trainer, any of my coordinators walk into my office and say, ‘I'm concerned about the health of our football team.’ It didn't happen ever. Didn't happen last year or the year before.”
Then again, there are films of referees with their backs turned to the snap. Shaw showed one Wednesday. Those refs weren’t exactly walking leisurely.
So, bring on the “crisp jog,” which adds a sound of absurdity.
The sound is an ally to coaches who want to spin pace offenses as absurd, never-intended misuses of current rules. Those who say pace offenses ain’t football can also say refs ain’t joggers.
They can point to the very idea and say pace offenses cause everyone to adjust to absurd proportions.
Who can wait to see videos of refs jogging into position as plays start? Who can wait to hear mocking music and sound effects behind those videos?
Who can wait for the arguments to shift, now that player safety doesn’t have to be the argument?