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Speed Kills or Does Slow Get You Hurt?

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Speed May Kill, but Can Slow Get You Hurt?

Not but Why We Need to Study Before Jumping to Conclusions

By Dave Bartoo
National CFB Attrition Expert and Analytics Consultant
and Founder of the CFBMatrix
(Contact Dave)

Note: A lot of fans have read this page. Understand in advance it is not ‘proof’ nor does it refute the blind assertions of some coaches. Like most things I do here, I wanted to provide a different angle.  One that causes fans to discuss and THINK about taking rules action before it is studied.  The most common response is “It’s fact that if you play more snaps the likelihood of injury goes up.”  Yes, but you can say the same for practice time, weight room time, game length, number of tackles, number of blocks, total games played and playing hurt.  As a fan are you willing to also give up games on the schedule for ‘player safety’.  If coaches want a play count or limit the number of plays in a game are they willing to do the same in limiting practice time when a player is fatigued?  Reduce work in the weight room?  Place hit, block and tackle counts on each player for their ‘safety’?  If you start down this path the logical result is get rid of football as there is no end to limiting at risk activities for player safety. Study, think, act.  Please.  Others are already doing the opposite. – Dave 2|14|2014

I love assumptions about college football and finding new ways to look at data and information.  The flavor of the year seems to be a focus on the Pace of Play (POP) created by the rising of the Hurry Up No Huddle (HUNH) offenses in college football.

If this ‘fast’ football causes more injuries, why not slow it down?  But if you slow it down, then why not put a number of plays per game limit, reduce the time of the game or lengthen the play clock?

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.

If this fatigue is causing a concern over ‘player safety’, are these same coaches willing to reduce practice intensity and fatigue for ‘player safety’?  Are they willing to cap weight room workouts to reduce fatigue for ‘player safety’?  It now takes 15 games instead of 10 to win a national title.  Are they willing to reduce games played for ‘player safety”?  An injured player has a higher risk of injury in a game so are coaches willing, for ‘player safety’, to sit a guy and not play him when he is hurt?  You see, this ‘player safety’ game is a convenience excuse that can be played over and over and used to ‘control’ the game. Convenient?


Observation Note: To even start researching this topic, head coaches must provide daily injury reports on all players year round to see a pattern of injury development and occurrence.  Until there is full disclosure from coaches for a full review of their complaints about HUNH offenses are unjustified and self-serving.  Please stop this shoot, aim, think mentality.

LISTEN ))))  As I walk you through this article  Speed Kills But Slow May Hurt You

It is easy to spin numbers to match an argument.  Here is how we can use 2012 metrics to show that ‘fast’ HUNH offenses are better for rates of injury in college football.

The way I see it just take the top teams with the most plays per game (‘fast teams’) and divide out the games lost to injury in an offense to total plays run.  Thus getting an injury per play ratio.  Do the same for the bottom 20 teams of plays run per game (‘slow’ teams) to get a comparable injury per play ratio.

Top 20 ‘Fast’ Teams in FBS Football 2012
Average Plays per Game: 83.12
Total Starts Lost to Injury: 143
Average Number of Starts Lost Per Team: 7.15
Average Starts Lost per Play: .086

Top 20 ‘Slow’ Teams in FBS Football 2012
Average Plays per Game: 65.85
Total Starts Lost to Injury: 151
Average Number of Starts Lost Per Team: 7.55
Average Starts Lost per Play: .115

MORE| Click Here for Part II: SEC Leads 2012 Conference Speed/Injury Ratios

For all of FBS football in 2012, the ‘fast’ teams averaged over 17 plays per game more than the bottom 20 ‘slow’ teams.  This is 26% more plays run per game than a ‘slow’ teams.  Even though this adds up to over 340 more plays run in a season, the ‘slow’ teams still lost 8 more starts to injury than the ‘fast teams.

The average number of starts lost per play was 33% HIGHER for the ‘slow’ teams.    Although this is all FBS programs and just the 2012 season, that is a huge argument in favor of ‘fast’ play.

[’09-’12 Starts Lost to Injury: Offense: 4898  Defense: 4795]

I know, I was thinking the same thing you are “That’s all FBS teams Dave, how about just big boy AQ football.”  If you were hoping the numbers got better.  Stop here.  It gets worse.

The top 15 ‘fast*’ teams in AQ football in 2012 ran 2697 MORE plays than the 15 ‘slow’ teams in 2012.  This resulted in 24 FEWER starts lost to injury to the ‘Fast’ teams.  The ‘fast’ teams lost just 5.87 starts to injury in 2012 which is 22.7% less that the 7.50 starts lost per team for the ‘slow’ teams.  The amazing stat is that injuries that created starts lost per play occurred at a rate 56% greater for teams that play ‘slow’.

Top 15 ‘Fast’ Teams in AQ Football 2012
Average Plays per Game: 81.2
Total Starts Lost to Injury: 88
Average Number of Starts Lost Per Team: 5.87
Average Starts Lost per Play: .072

Top 15 ‘Slow’ Teams in AQ Football 2012
Average Plays per Game: 66.2
Total Starts Lost to Injury: 112
Average Number of Starts Lost Per Team: 7.50
Average Starts Lost per Play: .113

While this may not settle the argument of the safety of ‘fast’ up-tempo for coaches or fans against the up-tempo style of play, it certainly does not cement the suggestion that ‘fast’ play causes more injuries. The ‘slowest’ conference for play in 2012 was the SEC.  The highest rate of injury per play, the SEC.

Certainly in 2012 it was the opposite of the suggestion that ‘fast’ play cause more frequent injury rates as total starts lost to injury and frequency of this injury per play was higher across the board for all of FBS football and AQ football teams.

To hate fast offenses, game ingenuity and thinking outside the box is simply Un-American.  It was George Washington that decided that lining up against an opponent and playing war the ‘traditional’ way was a disadvantage to his future.  By being an innovator to what was commonly accepted style of play, he found out a way to win.

The biggest threat to injury is speed and size.  The faster players move and the bigger they get, the more injuries you will see on and off the field.  Is it any surprise that the conference with the biggest players and the slowest pace of play per game also has the highest rate of significant injury per play in 2012? Maybe fatigue helps REDUCE violent collisions as guys are moving at a slower pace later in the game.

Football is high energy, high contact and high risk.  There are nearly 120,000 plays per year in FBS football and thousands of way to get hurt preparing for and playing this game.  If you don’t like the injury risk then stop playing football. If I want to watch guys doing the same thing for a set number of plays, I’ll watch bowling.

Data thanks to the folks at teamrankings.com for their contributions and philsteele.com for injury numbers

*2012 ‘Slow’ Teams 2012 ‘Fast’ Teams
Cincinnati Baylor
Mississippi State Texas A&M
USC Oregon
Kansas State Duke
Alabama Arizona State
Florida Syracuse
Temple Clemson
Michigan West Virginia
Rutgers Oklahoma
Wisconsin Washington State
Auburn Oklahoma State
Georgia Arizona
Kentucky Penn State
Minnesota NC State


  1. Douglas Hazard (@BearlyDoug)

    July 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    This is actually a really interesting measurable stat that every coach (and fan) needs to pay attention to. Hopefully everyone can start working towards reducing the number of injuries. I still have concerns about teams where conditioning and endurance aren’t a large part of their physical training programs.

    • JeremyC

      July 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Where’s the button for 100x liking this article and Doug’s comment above? Wanna reduce injuries? Coach lean, flexible and in great condition.

  2. Jg28390

    July 22, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    You need to look at number of players versus injuries. You are making the false assumption that the number of unique players is the same for both the fast and slow teams.

  3. college football fan

    July 22, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Isn’t the concern about injuries caused to the opposing teams defense? Not the members of the “fast” teams themselves?

    Wouldn’t that be a better argument against what Bielema was referring to?

    I think Bielema is wrong, but seeing facts would be very intriguing.

  4. PC

    July 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    The school’s with the biggest kids want to keep the game slow. They want to pound the opponent and crush them physically. This is why you see Saban and Bielema out there talking about it. Saban was just talking about it today, and you could see his frustration. D-Coordinators haven’t quite figured out how to slow down an advanced fast paced attack. They are worried!!! Good article!

    • probeman2

      February 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Not really, because the author does not define what start is. A better hypothesis would include the number of plays per player. Make no mistake, alot of people really dislike Saban and the rest of the SEC, but thats natural with what they have been accomplishing over the last few years. A fast paced offense utilizes alot more players in a more consistant manner, meaning backups can potentially get more reps than the so called starters. If the amount of repetitions is decreased 25, 30, or 50% then the amount of injuries to the respective starter also declines. He is correct though,you can skew stats to make them work for you, even if you claim to give an alternate view point.

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  6. Anonymous

    July 23, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    The argument that saban makes is injuries to defensive players playing the spread. What a great waste of time on this useless data

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  8. Anonymous

    July 24, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Are you using injuries from the fast/slow teams and their opponents during those games, or just the injuries from the fast/slow teams themselves? I believe you need to use the oppenents in those games for your data to valid.

  9. Anonymous

    July 24, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Would you not need to look at the number of injuries slower paced teams received while playing faster paced teams? I think that is what the argument is from the coaching standpoint.

    • cfbmatrix

      July 24, 2013 at 10:15 am

      If as a whole, the pace of play does not indicate injuries rise with faster play, why go into the minutia of play by play analysis? Additionally, how do you specifically identify when an injury occurred? What if a guy gets hurt playing a up-tempo team but it was a recurring injury or one that started a week earlier in practice or chopped at Alabama?

      IMO, bottom line. Shut up and play. Teams play to win. 40 plays, 100 plays winning is what fans want. And the SEC, with an overall bigger, faster guy per man is going to always have more injuries per play. Simple physics. Force = Mass x acceleration.

  10. Robert Martin

    July 24, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I believe Saban and Beilema think the injuries happen on the defensive side of the ball, when playing a HUNH team. Defense gets tired and gets there head knocked off. So could you look at the defensive injuries while playing against a HUNH offense? Thanks. GHG

    • cfbmatrix

      July 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      For anyone asking about HUNU offenses and injuries, you would, literally, need to watch every play of every game, be able to determine when a HUNU play was run, or series of them and THEN conclusively be able to tie HUNH offense to that injury as the injury could be reoccurring or aggravated the game or practice in the previous week.

      IMO, bottom line. Shut up and play football. Guys are going to get hurt. They are going to get hurt more in the conferences with bigger and faster guys playing in close-in situations. In the SEC where guys are universally bigger and faster on average than any other conference, injuries are going to be more common. It is a high speed, high impact, high risk game no matter how you cut it and coaches need to play a style that helps them win.

      If player safety and health is so valuable to these coaches, stop football. It is the only way to cut the true risk of a violent game.

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  12. Jim

    July 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Are you counting the injuries for the”fast” teams or for their opponents, because Bielema’s point was that the injuries would be on the defensive side (of either fast or slow PROGRAMS), not if the offenses. His point was the large defensive lineman not being able to get off the field in a no-huddle situation.

  13. Gary Brown

    July 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    How in the world did Auburn, Miss. State and some of the others qualify as “top” slow teams? They are not even in the top 50 for total offense in 2012.

    • cfbmatrix

      July 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Plays per game. Auburn at just over 60. That’s what happens when your offense sux and you are 3 and out every other possession.

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    • cfbmatrix

      July 25, 2013 at 7:43 am

      That was the end point of the whole thing in part II. There is no way to accurately track where, when, how an injury occurred and pin it on a specific offense style. People get hurt in football, period. Bigger, faster, stronger means more injuries. Only way to prevent is stop playing.

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  17. Chris

    July 26, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Bielema is talking about the defense getting hurt because they can’t sub players for 8 sometimes even 15 or 20 plays. This absolutely in no way disproves Bielema.

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  19. dave

    August 2, 2013 at 11:38 am

    In your article you say, ” …divide out the games lost to injury in an offense to total plays run.” Does this mean you are only counting injuries to players on the offense or counting all injuries regardless of position? What is the breakdown considering injuries on offense versus defense? I ask because I have heard NIck Saban specifically comment that he is concerned about increased injury potential to defensive players. As I understand it his argument is basically that the defense is not able to keep up or not ready (my words not his) and thus more susceptible to injury. Of course I suggest it is his job to get them ready and there is proof it can be done (Auburn & Standford).

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  23. Jeff

    February 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    The problem lies in the fact Saban has trouble with these teams so he wants the rules changed. The fact is that he’s not a better coach, he’s just the better recruiter. He has 5 stars backing up 5 stars and the offensive plans and speed make it difficult to keep em fresh. Same goes for him wanting the playoff system for that matter. He’d play 20 games a year if allowed because as the year grinds on, injuries occur to most teams, but for Alabama no problem just put in another 5 star, but only a handful of teams can compete with that kind of recruiting ability. We cut the number of scholarships so more teams could be more competitive and it has worked. Saban would love to take us back to the old days where teams can sign as many as they like and then it will be back to 6-8 teams playing for the championship each year. I don’t think that’s what anyone, except the few, really wants. College football is fun and exciting to me because there are some many teams that really have a chance. Within the last few years Cinderella’s like Boise St., Louisville, this year, Mizz., even Auburn and Florida St., Clemson, Texas A&M, others. Until scholly limits and Bobby Bowden, Fl. St. Wouldn’t be there.
    Could give much more detail but I believe the game has come so far and has become so entertaining and competitive when don’t need to go backwards. If player safety is really the concern, shorten the number of games to ten per year and let the conference champions have a 8 team playoff, others have bowls, therefore every school only plays 11 games per year except playoff teams which depending how far they went would add 1-3. More games. Oh but wait that wont work because of loss of revenue, doesn’t really matter about safety. Saban make have to take a pay cut to $4 million per year.

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  26. Duck Fan

    February 14, 2014 at 10:25 am


    I have a quick note. I think you’re going to have to look at different data. I believe the argument (vapid as it may be) is that the defensive players facing fast teams are subject to injury as opposed to the fast teams themselves. So you have to look at the in-game injury rate against fast teams and against slow teams. Of course, as you suggest, it isn’t this simple.


  27. chuck

    February 14, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Let us know when Saban contacts you and tells you to take this down.

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  35. Shawn

    March 5, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Look at the number of injuries while playing against fast teams. That’s tge issue.

    • cfbmatrix

      March 5, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Shawn – Look at the Pace of Play Summary Report. Its the one Arizona based their video on for Rich Rod. It goes over the 2013 season and profiles DL SEI injury against the 30 ‘fastest’ teams, 30 ‘slowest’ and the 66 in between. Guess what? You get hurt very infrequently playing football to pick a scheme that injuries are higher than any other scheme.

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