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Conference Speed of Play to Injuries

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Conference Speed of Play to Injuries

Is it the Pace of Play or Something Else?

@CFBMatrix dave@cfbmatrix.com

In the follow up to the Speed May Kill, But Slow Gets You Hurt on Offense article, I take a quick look at conference injury rates and speed of play for 2012.

One of the thoughts put forth by Nick Saban and Bret Bielema, both of the Southeastern Conference, is that fast play and up-tempo offenses will cause a greater frequency of injury to the defensive side of the ball.  To go through each and every injury and identify exactly from which game and play it originated from for a single season, may not even be possible.  I simply want to see if preliminary numbers warrant a more in-depth review of their ideas.

Click & Read The CFBMatrix Pace of Play Summary Report

)))Listen with me!!!  You can find the AUDIO portion of this summary report in the Matrix Casts in the Menu above.  I walk you through my thoughts page by page in the Summary.

I took a bit of  a short cut in my quick take on this review.  Rather than use my own personal assumptions for ‘fast’ versus ‘slow’ teams, I took a look at conference rate of play and rate of injury.  As all conferences play 8 or 9 games, and with most OOCs being cream puffs, I feel this is a good and realistic approach in looking at injury rates on the defensive side of the football.

The first data point that jumped out to me was, the SEC ran the fewest plays in college football in 2012.  They were the only AQ conference to average under 70 plays per game and nearly 7 plays per game behind that of the Big 12 and the PAC-12.  Mr. Saban is simply supporting the pace of play of his conference and his team.  The status quo for him, and like most people, makes him feel comfortable.  Basically, change is bad.

So, here are the metrics (pic below) on conference pace of play and injuries sustained that resulted in starts lost on the offense and defense side of the ball.    I have already profiled the offense in-depth in “Speed may Kill, but Slow Could get you Hurt” so let’s move on to the defensive side.

When I look at the defense injury to pace of play ratios, it give me no indication that a ‘faster’ pace of play causes or a ‘slower’ pace reduces injury counts.  The PAC-12, with the highest game pace of play at 75.33 plays per game per team, averaged the lowest ratio of injury per play for the defense.  This is especially interesting considering they play 9 conference games including up-tempo teams Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona.   On the flip side, the third  fastest pace of play conference, the ACC, had the highest rate of injury to the defense per play.

This snapshot of defensive injuries versus pace of play only serves to show that the idea of pace of play causing more injuries to the defensive side of the ball are, in my opinion, random and unfounded.   Nevertheless, the numbers ftom 2012 on the offensive side showed ‘fast’ teams were less frequently injured.

Because so many readers and tweeters pointed out that Coach Saban’s argument was simply ‘a fast pace causes fatigue and thus more injuries’, I tossed added in the totals for your consumption.  The quick and dirty is that 2012 may have shown that his assumption is wrong.  The SEC was by far the slowest conference for pace of play in AQ football in 2012.  For Mr. Saban’s assertion to be correct you should expect the SEC to be at or near the bottom of injuries per play.  However, you can see in the final column that the SEC actually had the highest occurrence of injury per play for both the offense and defense per play run.  Compare that to the Big 12, which ran  plays at a pace 6.8% faster all season than the SEC teams, whose injury to play ratio was 35% lower than the SEC.

Does this prove them right or wrong?  I do not feel it does, but it certainly does not make you want to spend a ton of money to review it any further that you finishing this article.  His argument also opens a Pandora’s Box for every coach.  If fatigue is causing more injuries and this is truly about player safety, then should practices, weight room and other football prep activities be reduced for player safety?  The 15 game schedule everyone approves says ‘No’.

My parting shot:  In looking at the final numbers below, I wanted to see if there was any conclusion I could come to on my own with my base knowledge of CFB metrics.  And I think Newton was right about college football way back in 1687.  In that year he published the formula Force = Mass times Acceleration.  In football terms, a man weighing 250 pounds moving 10% faster than another 250 pound man will be carrying a force 11% greater in direct impact.  While I did not go through every guy on every team in every conference for speed and size measurements, we may agree that man for man, the SEC has a weight and speed advantage over other conferences.  In other words for Mr. Saban, Mr. Bielema and Mr. Miles, unless you want to put weight and speed limits on your players to reduce the impact of hits on every play, your conference will lead college football in injury rates regardless of the pace of the game.

Conf Pace of Play to Injury Chart 2012




  1. Pingback: Some Numbers To Go With The “Fast Offenses Cause Injuries” Debate

  2. Anonymous

    August 18, 2013 at 3:35 am

    This is a tough area to study. The real question is whether “up-tempo” offense adversely affects unaccustomed defensive units. One could argue that the PAC-12 defenses are physically conditioned to up-tempo offenses, and therefore have a lower injury rate than another unaccustomed defense. It would be interesting to see if Bowl games, where teams from different conferences play each other, have disparate injury rates between offense and defense. I don’t know if that type of data is available or not, in fact, it probably isn’t.

    • cfbmatrix

      August 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

      IMO, as I mentioned in the article there are two things that I found very clear. This data does not support nor deny what head coaches have as complaints about HUNH offenses but it does open the door to consider it is less about pace of play and more about size/speed ratios in a conference. The second part is that coaches that complain about the HUNH offense should not discuss it unless they are willing to provide daily and accurate injury reports. This would help to track offensive and defensive injuries from actual games versus pre-existing injuries. Until HCs open up injury logs for transparency this is a moot subject and serves no purpose.

  3. Anonymous

    February 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    This is probably the exact data Saban is looking for. This data shows that if the SEC increases the Plays/game by 7% (to same as Big 12 and Pac 12) then it will result in an increase in Total Starts Lost to Injury to 309 (20 more starts lost per year). This of course is conservative estimate of the impact increasing the plays since these numbers already include some the impact of the increasing trend in 2012.

  4. Anonymous

    February 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    1. Reduce playing time by increasing the number of players allowed per team to 100.

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