A Sporting War, pt. 2
Following on from part 1, I’m musing on the parallels between sports conventions and the conventions of military commanders.
A second article that piqued my interest was a brief interview with University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, wherein he expressed his disapproval of up-tempo, no-huddle offense, where the offense tries to snap the ball quickly, with little time elapsed between plays. The Oregon Ducks come to mind at the college level, while in the NFL the prototypical current example of this would be Peyton Manning, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, now of the Denver Broncos. No-huddle has the effect of speeding up the game (getting inside the enemy’s decision cycle?), and for some reason the defensive players (the linesmen in particular) always seem to come out the worse for wear, panting exhaustedly with their hands on their hips as they try to line up for whatever new-look formation the offense is giving them. In addition, it also makes it difficult for the defensive coaches to substitute players in for the different offensive packages, and to signal plays in to the defense. (In fact, the sight of defensive players sprinting off the field in response to a last minute change in offensive personnel – sometimes literally leaping into the air in order to not be touching the field of play as the ball is snapped – has led the NFL to require that a defense be given enough time to make their own substitutions before the offense can hike the ball, which would otherwise result in a defensive ‘too many men on the field’ penalty).
Aside from highlighting the need to train your athletes (or troops) to operate at such a high tempo, what intrigues me about this is Saban’s response. Is this a hide-bound rejection of an innovative strategy? Possibly, but with the #1 ranked Crimson Tide, he’s probably not motivated by sour grapes. What strikes me as much as Saban’s complaint about football not being that kind of game is his concern that such high-paced offenses will lead to increasing injuries for the players. I don’t recall hearing a coach making such a functional argument on the topic – normally you hear about it in idealistic terms as described in my previous post.
What think you? Is the conservatism of military institutions driven more by risk-averse brain-dead military minds, or by more fundamental functional concerns that outsiders aren’t always aware of?