Let's Talk About Bret Bielema And This HUNH Business

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Here's the thing about Bret Bielema and his stance on the hurry-up-no-huddle and its impact on player safety:

I think he's being completely sincere about it.

I've never talked to him personally, only seen him speak and read the reports, but I believe he's being completely genuine. I don't think it's political spin because he's afraid of playing against it. I don't think he's that devious. I don't know that he's capable of it. Nick Saban? Sure. It's probably a strategy thing to him. But I think Bielema really believes what he's saying.

Hurry-up offenses aren't some new foreign contraption that Bielema hadn't seen until Gus Malzahn came along. Bielema took on Rich Rodriguez's Michigan teams and beat them two out of three times. His 2011 Wisconsin team also kept up with one of Chip Kelly's best Oregon teams in the Rose Bowl and lost at the end because of costly offensive turnovers, not because they were worn down by the Ducks.

I do think Bielema has a fundamental distaste for it, both in practice and in theory. Bret Bielema is a Hayden Fry Big 10 defensive lineman. That's the foundation of his football philosophy. It makes sense that the idea of an offense spreading out a defense and preventing them from being able to substitute bothers him to the core.

When he makes the point that a player at the end of a 15-play drive is different than the same player at the beginning of said drive, he's right. His point that a tired player is more likely to get hurt than a fresh player is valid. If he wants to argue that more plays equals more injuries, that might be superficial but okay, we can have that conversation. And if he even wants the philosophical debate about whether or not a defense should have the ability to substitute on any given play regardless of what the offense does, I don't think that's necessarily an unreasonable discussion - whether or not you agree with it.

But that's not what's happening. The problem we're having is that too much of this is venturing into the absurd, and that makes it more difficult if not impossible to take it seriously.

Citing Ted Agu's death and his possible problems with a sickle-cell trait was ridiculous and hurtful. The implication was that if Bielema was unable to sub out his players with a similar condition when they were fatigued, what would happen? Would they die? And other coaches are Ivan Drago, "if he dies, he dies"?

Let's be very blunt. If a player's life and death is to be determined by whether or not an offense slows down or his coach has a timeout available, those players should not be playing football. At all.

It would be completely irresponsible for any coach to put a player at that sort of risk. I do appreciate that Bielema understands his players' health conditions, but whether or not he has a timeout available or whether or not Gus Malzahn runs 80 plays should not be a factor in whether a person lives to the end of a game. It's beyond idiotic that anyone should have to point that out.

Even if we keep the discussion centered around typical football injuries instead of death, the question becomes what happens in these extra 15-20 defensive snaps per game that becomes intolerable? Plenty of injuries occur during games with traditional styles of play. How many injuries did Arkansas' offensive players incur last season? More than enough. Would it have been worse if Arkansas played more snaps? Possibly. But why are those extra injuries the ones that are too much to bear? Why do we need to change the rules for those extra plays?

Last August, Arkansas held a scrimmage that lasted for over 100 plays. How does that factor in to this? Bobby Petrino was notorious for extreme scrimmages with over 150 plays. Do we ignore that? Do we regulate how many plays can take place in a scrimmage? Especially one in the dead of August with extreme heat? One could argue those are more dangerous for players than an 80-play game.

Unfortunately, it is a possibility that one day a player could die on the field like Bielema suggested. But even in doing so it will be difficult to pin the blame on the opposing offense playing too fast. It could just as easily come from some sort of vicious hit. We have seen necks break on the field.

And that's what makes the player safety debate difficult for Bielema to win. Yes, he's looking out for players, but the main concern seems to be injuries related to fatigue. Does he have the same issue with violent hits? Last summer "Spaighting" was all the rage in Arkansas when juco linebacker Martrell Spaight was so violent in his hitting that he caused three fall camp concussions (a football problem for which there is data supporting its effects on people) and a shoulder injury to possible would-be starter Austin Tate. Bielema said he was "tempted" to put Spaight in a green jersey as a result.

Bielema cited a possible decline in youth football if a death ever occurred on the field, and President Obama's statement that he didn't know if he would allow a hypothetical son of his to play football. But concussions are the issue triggering that national concern, not the speed of offense. And, sorry, there are currently no death certificates affiliated with the hurry-up-no-huddle. If there were, yes, that's a great point. But they don't exist. Players have died from exhaustion, but not that was brought on by defending an opposing drive that was happening too quickly and is usually over after just a few minutes.

All of the players who've died from sickle-cell trait have died during off-season workouts. When asked about the possibility of players falling or staying on the ground to indicate injury or extreme fatigue, Bielema said his players weren't wired that way, that they never wanted to be taken out of "workouts." If basic football workouts are what's causing death at an extremely higher rate than games, the future of football as a whole is what should be being addressed, not merely the style of offense.

Because we've ventured into this topic of HUNH-related death certificates where does this debate even go from here? Surely the mindset that a HUNH proponent "is turning a blind eye" to the potential death of players won't be taken seriously and only hurts his credibility.

And that leads into another point. As a Razorback fan, I'm tired of this program being the butt of national jokes. From the motorcycle accident to SMILE! to normal American football to #karma to death certificates and all the smaller ones in between, I'm sick of these things happening and nothing but a whole lot of losses to show for it.

Of course this all impacts recruiting. This isn't the NFL. The national perception of the program matters because Arkansas has to sell itself beyond the borders of the state. Of course opposing coaches will use it against the Razorbacks.

I've read the transcript. I've watched the video. I understand the context of what Bielema was saying. A lot of it made sense on the surface. He does bring up several points regarding player safety that are worthy of discussion. But "death certificates" twists and contorts the entire conversation into something illogical and difficult to follow.

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