It is Speed of Play or Something Else?
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.
I took a bit of 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 simple a fast pace causes more injuries, I tossed added in the totals for your consumption. The quick and dirty is that 2012 may have proved his theory 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.
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.