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Some Numbers To Go With The “Fast Offenses Cause Injuries” Debate

stop-watchAt SEC Media Days, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn — a man who wants to run the fastest offense in the nation — said he thought it was a joke when he was first told that some coaches were claiming hurry-up offenses are more dangerous for athletes.

Speaking later on the same day, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema — a man who has pushed that “hurry-ups are dangerous” theory — said, “I’m not a comedian,” and proceeded to angrily list the reasons for his belief.

But no one had any hard and fast numbers to back up either man’s argument.  That changed this week.  Sort of.

The NCAA doesn’t keep official data for the number of injuries each team in the country sustains.  The closest anyone really comes to this type of info is the king of the preseason football guides, Phil Steele.  Steele tracks how many starts are lost to injury.  Now, with starting lineups changing from week to week — and not necessarily due to injuries — we’re not quite sure how he tracks that number.  So part of this requires giving Steele the benefit of the doubt, something we’re willing to do due to a) his track record and b) his geekery, which we love.

A website called has taken Steele’s injury data and compared it to the number of plays run by teams across the country.  They chose to focus on the 20 fastest and 20 slowest teams in the country in terms of snaps per game.  Again, it can be debated whether only using the 20 at each end is accurate, but because they’ve attempted to dig deeper into this topic than anyone else, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, too.

So what did find?  That the slower teams lost more starters to injury than the faster teams.  According to


“According to the numbers at, on the 20 “fastest” teams in college football last season, who ran an average of 83.12 players per game, there were 143 total starts lost to injury with 7.15 average number of starts lost per team.  Of the 20 “slowest” teams, who ran an average of 65.85 plays per game, there were 151 total starts lost to injury and an average of 7.55 number of starts lost per team.”


Tip: Don’t tell Bret Bielema.  You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. took things a big further still and compared the snaps-per-game and injury data of each of (what were) the six major conferences.  The slowest conference in terms of average plays per team per game was the SEC (70.40 plays per game).  The fastest conference was the Big XII (75.20 snaps per game).

Factoring in the injury data to find which league suffered the most starters lost per play, the SEC had the most injuries and the Big XII had the fewest.  Obviously, you can make a case that with twice as many NFL draft picks flying around in the SEC there were bound to be more injuries.  Bigger bodies colliding at faster speeds, in theory, would produce more injuries.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that in both of these examinations, the slowest teams suffered more injuries than the fastest teams.  Ditto for the conferences.

Will one website’s conclusions end the debate of hurry-up offenses?  Of course not.  So we say again: As long as the NCAA is getting serious about protecting the health of its student-athletes, college sports’ governing body should commission its own serious study into the issue.

(A tip of the hat to the folks at  As a site that wastes a good amount of time itself on new statistics and data, we know it must’ve been a time-consuming process to pull that info together.)



I hate when media guys quote random people who play with numbers rather than do statistical math. If those samples were statistically significant (which they are not), they would be statistically equivalent, not proving a point one way or the other. But go ahead, write something meaningless again.


When you compare conference to conference, the data is a bit firmer. In theory in the B12, you have up tempo offenses playing each other, and slower offenses in the SEC. However with few plays a game, the SEC is having more injuries than the B12. By the data presented in the article, it appears that faster offenses produce fewer injuries than slower offenses. The opposite of what Saban and Bielema have been claiming.


Doesn't the following line say the opposite of what you intended? "Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that in both of these examinations, the slowest teams suffered fewer injuries than the fastest teams. Ditto for the conferences."


I had the same thoughts that the study would have to look at the injuries sustained by defenses that play aginst up-tempo offenses.  Common sense tells me that the defense should have appropriate time to at least line up properly.


Pseudo analysis for a pseudo argument. If a defensive player is so bloated that they can't play for 10, 5 second bursts, over 3 or 4 minutes, they need to work more on endurance. If a defensive player is so small they can't hold up to a larger offensive player, they need to bulk up. The game evolves over time. Adapt to that in whatever fashion you like as a coach, but don't complain because change occurs. It's as silly as if Woody Hayes had argued that passing leads to more injuries than running does. Or maybe we need weight and speed restrictions on players because if you're big and fast you cause more injuries to others. This isn't a safety issue. It's a silly issue.


It's not the "fast" teams sustaining more injuries because of their tempo, it is their opponents, who are not accustomed/acclimated/trained to play at the higher tempo who are more likely to sustain injury. Or at least that's how I read the comments from Bielema, Saban, and others who have brought up the issue. 

While the analysis seems reasonable, given the overall lack of transparency and the available data set, what is needed is a review of injuries sustained by opponents of the HUNH, not the HUNH teams themselves.


I don't think this data does anything to the argument that "slow coaches" have.  Their argument, from what I can tell, is the injuries for the opposing defense.  A team that runs a hurry-up offense doesn't allow the defense to substitute, or get set properly, and causes more injuries on the defensive side of the ball.  This data just says that a team that runs a hurry-up offense doesn't themselves get injured as much.  In fact, I think this data (in a backwards way) only helps the arguments of the Sabans and Bielemas.  The slow teams have more injuries because of facing these high-tempo offenses.  What they need to track are injuries to opposing defenses of hurry-up offenses.  With the current data available, I don't think that can be measured.  It's all just opinions and conjecture mixed in with a little bit of logic.  But with the upcoming season, maybe the NCAA will start to take a closer look at this and gather some hard data to either confirm or dispel the theory.  Like you said, this data comes far from ending the debate.  As always, thanks for the info, John!

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator


You know what I hate?  When commenters can't disagree with something without being ugly and insulting.

Either you didn't actually read the piece or you couldn't comprehend what was written.  I don't think I could have made it more clear that you'd have to accept Phil Steele's numbers, and CFBMatrix's numbers, if you were to believe their findings.  We posted the link to their site -- making it very clear that it wasn't our study -- because I thought many of you would be smart enough to read and it and decide for yourself if you accepted all of that data.  Like it or not, it's the first attempt to put data to this argument that I've seen.

I also wrote -- as I have many other times -- that while those numbers are interesting, an actual NCAA study is the only thing that will end this debate.

The vast majority of our readers either read the piece, made up their minds and moved on, as expected.  You chose to get nasty.  Congratulations.  From the looks of your photo you must be very happy with yourself.

So go ahead, post something ugly again.



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