Speed May Kill, But Can Slow Get You Hurt?

Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema 2013

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

Special to College Sports Journal


PORTLAND, OR – 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?


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.

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

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.

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
Utah                          UCLA
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


Full PDF: Pace of Play Summary, 2009-2013