Midweek review of all things Buckeye and from across college sports, including thoughts on the newest in controversial rule changes.
Commentary: Helmet Rulez
In addition to the glee that came with college football re-purposing our lives, there was a lot coverage given this weekend to discussion of the new rules regarding player headgear. For those of you who missed it, a) welcome back from the Yukon and b) the new rules are essentially as follows: If your helmet comes off, and if there wasn’t a penalty involved (facemasking, etc.) you need to sit out the next play.
At the surface level, this makes a lot of sense- if your player has an equipment issue, you’d certainly want the opportunity to take a look at it and correct it, particularly if it involves his brain bucket. In addition, you’re also going to want the chance to assess his health if he got hit so violently that his headgear is detached from his person. If nothing else, it gives you the chance to see if his head is in the helmet that’s rolling around on the turf.
The problem, as is highlighted numerous places, is that this new rule creates a loophole for less than scrupulous folks to gain an advantage over their opponents. One way is for a defender to try to remove the helmet of the other team’s offensive star in an effort to remove them from the game, even if for one play.
Several folks pointed to the Auburn/Clemson tilt as an example of this, in the picture you can see a handful of facemask in the defender’s grasp; Clemson’s Tahj Boyd was pulled for several plays as a response to the new guidelines. In the Michigan Massacre, Alabama’s Eddie Lacy could be seen on the sideline complaining that his foes were trying to rip his helmet off of his head… and I believe that one Michigan offensive lineman was penalized for hands to the face. You can certainly see how folks might want to gain an advantage in this way- imagine knowing you could keep Braxton on the sidelines for third down during a big drive if you removed his lid on second.
The other issue comes in the “accidental” equipment issue- something that Ohio State fans should also be concerned about. As the Buckeyes move to a more uptempo offense, it’s imaginable for a player to pop his own lid off in a pile to create a stoppage of the game so he can get to the sidelines and the defense can substitute. For a tutorial on this practice, pay attention to next Saturday’s visitors.
I spoke with an NCAA official this past week, and had him state the obvious- “The rule change is something that needed to happen for football to continue to exist.” As we’ve seen across the media, studies regarding brain trauma in football players continue to paint a gruesome picture, and there are many who are concerned- particularly at the high school level- about the amount of contact and damage that young men are receiving while their brains are yet developing. While I know that this debate is ongoing, what can be done to keep this sport from moving to all 7-v-7 or flag football? Steps need to be taken.
As we talked, I was also reminded that some of what we are seeing is a bit counter- intuitive. Headgear is more advanced than it was back in the paleolithic era when I played, yet it seems as if helmets are more frequently not where they’re supposed to be. In my “illustrious” career, I had a helmet come off once in 10 years of organized play, and that happened when my coach hit the bottom of my facemask when I didn’t have it buckled. Granted, I played in the defensive and offensive lines, but with every play beginning with helmet the helmet contact, I’m surprised that it wasn’t a greater issue.
Could there be a cultural issue involved here as well? There are some players who feel more comfortable unfastening their chinstraps between every play- this is especially true in the NFL. However, I’ve got to wonder if their practice also minimizes the effectiveness of the headgear’s harnessing system- if it keeps the straps too loose to function properly. I also know that there are systems (6 buckle harnesses) that are available to help address this issue- but are those comfortable? Are they what the cool kids are all wearing?
As I talked about this with our friend CeMo (huge HT for the links and inspiration), we started to speculate what an appropriate response should be to the problem. The cranial safety factor needs to remain, but what do we do about the loopholes? In talking with the NCAA official, he reminded me that players can and should be immediately ejected for trying to remove another player’s helmet. I asked about secondary findings- for instance, what if a ref missed the initial issue? He stated that the conference office could suspend the player in question for an upcoming game if there are egregious issues brought to their opinion, but that this was unlikely in reality as each conference would be able to respond differently to various circumstances. Take the Clemson/Auburn game for example- if there were problems that showed up on video, there’s no idea who you’d report them to- the ACC? the SEC? the “neutral” conference that sent the officials? Lacking a national oversight body makes this a challenging issue to deal with… and that’s not even counting the inconsistency within the ways that different teams seem to have different sets of rules (see “Holding”, Wisconsin).
CeMo holds that all plays where a helmet is lost should be reviewed to assess damage/fault. While I like his train of thought, this doesn’t address the “slow down the game” strategy, and still is susceptible to human error. Not that Buckeye fans have any idea what that’s like.
So, it seems as if we’re stuck with this for a while- officials are going to work for safety in the easiest way possible. Is a helmet off? Kid gets to sit for a play. Again, I like the heart of this- safety of the players involved. I’d also like to believe that coaches would self-police this as well… do you really want a cheap-shot artist on your team?
However, I believe that it’s more realistic to assume that this will be tweaked and adjusted over the coming years, similar to the way that other loopholes were closed (again, looking at you, Bert).
This Week In Controversy