When Doug Rhoads, the man at the head of ACC officiating, sat down with the media at the ACC Football Kickoff on Monday morning, he had to know he was about to bear bad news to anyone who had ever witnessed a college football game.
They all had, and he was right on the money, as I outline here.
There will be some changes to the way college football players will be expected to operate this season, and this observer is none too happy about it.
In short, the game is headed down a dangerous path. Some might say this path is more dangerous than a helmet-to-helmet collision.
For starters, the whole issue of where a player can make contact with another player is shrouded in mystery. Rhoads explained some minor alterations to the rules that baffled and infuriated fans all last season.
In essence, there are two kinds of penalties designed to protect players. Notice the inclusion of the word “designed”, because the design—the intent—doesn’t always match the execution.
No player can lead with the crown of the helmet, for any reason, on either side of the ball. This I agree with due to the risk of head injuries that can only be described as self-inflicted.
However, one cannot escape the notion that the decision to add this statute was based on an attempt to clarify the illegal contact rules that governed tackling last season. Now, no player may be hit at any time above the shoulders, and this rule only applies to defenders.
Again, this rule seems to make sense—no allowable contact to the head, lower risk of head injuries. However, the rub comes with the part of the rule mandating an automatic ejection for a violating player. This is where the main objection resides.
The game is too fast for hard-line rules like this one governing collisions. There is simply not enough reaction time for it all to be fairly judged by officials who have a lot of things to look at already.
The idea that a player can be—nay, must be—ejected from competition because an offensive player changes his pad level at the last second before a tackle is attempted is simply asinine. In fact, it is flat out ridiculous for a player to even be penalized one yard for this kind of nonsense. Officials now punish events, not intents; rules focus on punishing what a player does over understanding what he means.
The end of this story is easy to fathom: Players looking to play the game in a hard, tough, and clean fashion will be expelled from competition for someone else’s actions. This is wrong—completely and totally wrong.
College football is a billion dollar industry now. Television deals and ticket sales drive the revenue, but what if the game becomes devalued? What if a prime performer like Jadeveon Clowney is ejected from a game because another player lowers his pads to meet him after he has already committed to a tackle? What happens if a player like Sammy Watkins trips, attempts to maintain his balance, lunges forward, contacts a defender with the crown of his helmet, and is forced to leave the game?
Is this really what we want college football to look like?
I have said this thousands of times, and I will continue to say it: College football is a dangerous, violent game. We can make it safer, but we cannot make it safe.
Overreaches on the part of the NCAA threaten the legitimacy of results for ludicrous reasons that are not justifiable by any reasonable standards of fairness. Just wait until the consumers figure out what the deal is and stop coming back. Then we’ll all be begging for the days when big hits were highlights, not ejections.