Yet again, NCAA football fraks it up

Photo by flickr user marylea, via Wikimedia Commons

In the name of ‘player safety’, the NCAA has instituted a rule that if a player’s helmet comes off during the play, they have to leave the field for one game. Of course, as usual, they miss the point; all this does it motivate players to try to remove or dislodge opposing players’ helmets…

Watching the Michigan-Air Force game, I just saw a Michigan defender, while finishing a tackle, appear to obviously try and rip the helmet off of the Air Force quarterback. Not only did it work–thus removing the QB from the game for a play–but it was done at an angle that seemed outright dangerous, while the quarterback was face down on the turf.

How does this improve safety?

I understand a certain angle of reasoning here. A lot of times, when guys’ helmets come off, it’s due to the sort of impact that often concusses or injures players. Moreover, when players’ helmets come off, once in a while they continue to try to make a play–including instances in which they’re in the middle of, or entering, a tackle pile. The possible outcomes of such a play are pretty scary. But the problem with the ‘helmet off, miss a play’ rule misses one key point: it’s QUITE often that the most damaging hits, including the ones that cause concussions, don’t involve the injured player’s helmet being dislodged. This rule is a one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all approach to a problem that might be better mandated by situational interpretation…instead, we have a situation where someone could be knocked into next week and wobble around after a play but still stay on the field, but where a guy’s chinstrap pops and he’s removed from the game.

It’s also flat-out incentive to try to remove opponent’s helmets. The NCAA’s failure to account for this would be baffling if, well, it wasn’t the NCAA.

I wonder how long it will take for someone to affect the outcome of a game, in the waning moments, by wrenching the helmet off of a guy. In a pileup, lots of things go on that, well, aren’t spoken of. Do we want to include chinstrap-popping and helmet-wrenching to the litany thereof? How tempting would it be, in a pileup, to de-helmet an opposing lineman and then blitz his gap the next down? Or de-helmet a tight end so his QB doesn’t have a checkdown on the next play? Moreover, how long until the kind of tackling I just saw in the Michigan game results in a neck injury or worse? I just switched to the Oregon State-Wisconsin game, and the announcers were talking about how a defensive lineman’s helmet came off and he was out for a play, so the offense would be wise to ‘take advantage of the personnel’ by running a play between the tackles.

It’s a sad fact that someone will take advantage of this kind of rule to do something dishonorable and affect the game. It’s a stupid, simplistic rule, and a lame attempt at improving player safety.

(postscript, 9/18: I called it here, weeks ago; how the heck did the NCAA not see this coming? See the article below from Yahoo…–ncaaf.html

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