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Free substitution had its points, but football is a better game without it

Just a year ago the most hotly cussed and discussed rule change since the beginning of college football went into effect. When the N.C.A.A. Rules Committee abolished the misnamed two platoon system by the simple expediency of not allowing a player to return to the game in the same quarter in which he was taken out for a substitute (except for the last four minutes of the second and fourth quarters), cries of "horse and buggy football" and "a return to the dark ages" rent the air. The most rending came from the majority of successful—that is, winning—coaches. Screams of agony could be heard distinctly from the citadels at South Bend, Atlanta and the fortress above the Hudson. Yet at the end of last fall's campaign these bastions still stood, to all intents and purposes impregnable.

Today there is hardly a murmur against the new-old rule except for a few diehards and losing coaches. Sage Lou Little of Columbia, who is head of the coaches' advisory rules committee, once said: "There is no legislation that will help an inferior football team." The good ones are still winning and poor ones are still losing.

There is no doubt that the most efficient way to play football is through the medium of free substitution. However, by 1952 the offensive and defensive units had evolved into punting teams, kick-off returning and covering groups, and extra-point units. In another few years, if the Rules Committee had not wisely stepped in, there is no telling just how far the specialization would have gone.

The proponents of free substitution claimed that this rule gave some players a chance to play football who could not have otherwise, and that it enabled more men to play in a game. Actually, statistics show that more men on the average played in games last year than under the free substitution rule. This fall the number is even larger, with many coaches substituting separate units at a time but playing both on offense and defense. It may be true that a few specialists got a chance to participate in a phase of a game called football who, under the present rules, would not have. But how would you have enjoyed being the center on the extra-point team, or the kicker for that matter, with nothing to do, week in and week out, but snap the ball back, or stand there and kick a thousand times between the uprights of the goalpost—and then came Saturday and your specialty act never got on, because the offensive platoon failed to get a touchdown? That's not my idea of high school or college football.


The greatest game of football that I have ever seen was the 0-0 game between Army and Notre Dame in 1946 while I was line coach at West Point under Colonel Blaik. It was supposed to have been a high scoring affair with great offensive backs, such as Blanchard, Davis and Tucker for Army, and Notre Dame's attack bulwarked by Lujack and Brennan. Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside along with Johnny Lujack played 60 minutes, while Arnold Tucker was out of the game only a few minutes for bench instruction. Neither team could break its great backs loose for a touchdown, but it so happened that these men played the most brilliant defensive game ever.

In later years, Coaches Leahy and Blaik, strange bedfellows, became (and probably still are) strong advocates of two platoon football. I never had the chance to ask Coach Leahy this question but last year I propounded it to Col. Blaik: "How would you have played Glenn, Doc and Arnold in the 0-0 Notre Dame game?" He answered quickly, "Oh, on the offense, of course." But somewhere I detected a glint in his eye. If I know Col. Blaik, Blanchard, Davis and Tucker would not have spent half the game sitting on the bench waiting for us to get the ball. The best football players are the best because they can go both ways.