The NCAA has agreed to implement a new college football rule in which players who hit defenseless opponents above the shoulders will be ejected for the remainder of the game. If the hit occurs in the first half of the game, the player will miss the second. If the penalty occurs in the second half, then the player will be ejected and ineligible to play in the first half of his team’s next game. All hits deemed worthy of ejection will be reviewable and can be overturned by officials if they can find conclusive evidence that the player did not deserve to be ejected.
The new rule is a step in the right direction in cutting down on helmet to helmet contact. It is another in an ongoing attempt to cut down on head and neck injuries suffered by players at every level. The NFL, college and high school football has gone to great lengths in trying to prevent concussions and brain trauma in their players. With a track record of past players suffering from post concussion syndrome they have no choice.
The rule is a good one, but the implementation of it may be tough. Anyone can eject a player who leaves his feet and elevates to hit an opponent. In other cases, there are a couple of variables that have to be taken into account when judging whether a player purposely makes head to head contact with an opponent.
One is whether the offensive player initiates the contact. If a defensive player stays low and sets himself to make a direct hit on an offensive player’s numbers what happens if the latter suddenly ducks his head? There is no doubt going to be helmet to helmet contact. When making this call, the covering official will have to determine whether there was any way the defensive player could avoid making the hit. In most cases, officials are taught to err on the side of safety and throw the flag on anything bordering an illegal hit to the head. This situation is one that will definitely go to review.
Another is whether the defender feels he needs to protect himself. What if an offensive player comes at a defender to block him high, but the defensive player strikes first? One could say that a blocker is not a defenseless player, but when that blocker is a wide receiver who has no idea how to block what happens in the tangle which could lead to illegal helmet contact? Do the officials take into account the poor blocking technique of the receiver or just assess the penalty? This will be a case when replay comes in.
Then there are the coaches. How will an opposing coach react if a player is charged with illegal helmet contact, but is not ejected, especially if one of his players has been? The officials will have their hands full trying to explain why one hit is deemed more serious then another.
The NCAA means well in establishing the new rule as player safety should always be paramount. However, they may have made things a lot tougher on players, coaches and game officials in determining the degree of severity in a helmet to helmet hit on a defenseless opponent.