There is no evidence that the NCAA Football Rules Committee, in an attempt to slow down fast-paced offenses, considered making offensive players wear scuba flippers.
But several coaches suggested to USA TODAY Sports that the committee might as well have.
They said the actual proposal – requiring offenses to wait 10 seconds before snapping the ball so defenses could substitute – was equally ludicrous, and could radically alter the game.
"It's ridiculous," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It's a fundamental rule of football that the offense has two advantages: knowing where they're going and when they're going. The defense has one advantage: they can move all 11 guys before the snap.
"What's next, you gonna go to three downs rather than four downs? It's silly."
For silly, consider that if an offense snapped the ball too quickly, it would be penalized 5 yards – for delay of game.
The reasoning behind the proposed change, according to Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry, a member of the committee, is safety. The more plays in a game, the greater the risk of injury. Or so goes the theory, which Berry calls "common sense".
But proponents of the hurry-up offense suspect it's simply an attempt to slow them down, an extension – a significant escalation – of the philosophical battle between college football's fast company and coaches who prefer, as Arkansas' Bret Bielema calls it, "normal American football."
"This is an attempt to limit the creativity of the game," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
In the past couple of years, as more and more offenses have increased their tempo between snaps, Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban had been vocal critics of the trend. During the 2012 season, Saban asked: "Is this what we want football to be?" Last summer during SEC media days, he ramped up the rhetoric, suggesting it was a matter of safety.
"Should we allow football to be a continuous game?" Saban asked. "Is that the way the game was designed to play?"
A person with knowledge of the meeting said Saban addressed the rules committee on the topic. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Bielema, in his role as a representative of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), participated in the discussions but does not have a committee vote. Through a spokesman, Bielema declined comment. Saban could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, several coaches who employ uptempo offenses told USA TODAY Sports the proposal took them completely by surprise.
The answer to Saban's question, according to Rodriguez and others who want to play faster, is yes. They consider fast football to be superior entertainment. It is also undoubtedly an equalizer, with speedy skill players forcing defenses to play from sideline to sideline – and then to keep doing it, over and over, at high rpm.
In a statement, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, the rules committee chairman, said the proposal was designed "to enhance student-athlete safety. … As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interest of protecting our student-athletes."
Berry, who runs an uptempo offense – his team averaged 74.5 plays a game last season, which ranked 53rd nationally – said the discussion included input from coaches, officials, athletic trainers and others.
"We were presented with an awful lot of information," Berry said. "I feel totally confident that we vetted the issue entirely. We spent a day and a half getting the information and discussion the information. I think everybody in the group would say they were moved by the information.
"I know we're under a little bit of fire right now and I understand that. I knew it wouldn't be the easy thing to do, but we've got to do right by the players first."
But Rodriguez and several others who spoke to USA TODAY Sports discounted the idea that playing faster leads to more injury. "Has anyone seen a study on that?" Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze wondered. "Is there any data that proves that?"
"If somebody presents proof that it's a huge safety concern, that's something different," Freeze said. "But if it's just so we can rotate four fresh defensive linemen in against your offensive line that's not being rotated, I'm not a fan of that."
Rodriguez added: "If there was a big concern with that, wouldn't the teams that practice fast be concerned with it? We don't have any more injuries because we practice fast."
Several up-tempo coaches said they suspect ulterior motives might have come into play.
Texas Tech led all of the 125-team FBS in plays per game last season, averaging 90.3. Baylor (85.2), Arizona (83.2) and Mississippi (79.8) weren't far behind. Forty-seven teams averaged at least 75 plays.
Three schools that had coaches in the room for at least a portion of the committee's discussion were at the other end of the spectrum. Air Force ranked No. 104, averaging 67.7 plays. Alabama ranked No. 115, averaging 65.9; Arkansas ranked No. 121, averaging 64.7.
Berry said he had heard from several frustrated coaches, but said he had "zero reservations in terms of what we did."
"I feel very confident this had nothing to do with competitive advantage or disadvantage," Berry said. "This had 100 percent to do with player safety."
The proposal was not discussed at last month's AFCA convention. Wednesday evening, Rodriguez tweeted: "None of the coaches I've talked to knew about the new rule proposal regarding waiting ten seconds to snap the ball – wondering#HiddenAgenda?" – @CoachRodAZ
"It hit like a 'Norther,'" Baylor coach Art Briles said. "It hit today and we had no idea it was coming. Fortunately, it's just a proposal and not reality that it has passed."
The proposal has been forwarded to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to consider it March 6. If approved, the change would take effect for the 2014 season. Under NCAA rules, it is an off year for rules changes, meaning proposals can only be made if player safety is the issue.
The rule would not apply in the final two minutes of each half, which led to snarking on Twitter about how the hurry-up was fine when, say, the coaches who didn't like the faster pace actually felt they needed to employ it.
"If you're down 21 points with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, you go to the two-minute drill and you happen to snap it at 31 (seconds on the 40-second play clock), it's a penalty," Freeze said. "So you can't go two-minute drill?"
In the statement, the rules committee said "research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offense rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock." To which Freeze wondered: "Why do we need another rule, then?" And several coaches said the threat that offenses could snap the ball was an important part of their strategy.
"There's always the capability to do that, if you wanted to," said Briles, whose team has occasionally snapped the ball in less than 10 seconds. "We're one of the fastest teams in America. We're very seldom snapping the ball within the 10-second time frame. That doesn't mean it's a good rule."
Briles would rather see the game speed up even more. He'd like to see the 40-second play clock cut down to 35 seconds, and to add radios in quarterbacks' helmets, like in the NFL, to allow faster play-calling.
"I'm not sure the game is broke," he said. "I think it's in great shape, with great rules.
"If the food tastes good, don't change the recipe. We've got a good game. Let's let the fans enjoy it. I just don't see the sense behind it."