Will new NCAA helmet rule cost teams games?
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 18:10
Concern of player safety has surely overshadowed the game of football. The newly enacted helmet rule of the 2012-2013 NCAA rulebook has the right intent of protection of players, but with recent episodes of intentional helmet stripping, the NCAA has given defenses a new way to target key offensive players and keep them from scoring and off the field.
This past weekend Duke University squared off against Wake Forest in North Carolina. Three minutes into the third quarter, Duke running back Jela Duncan scrambled outside to receive a screen pass from quarterback Sean Renfree from the Duke 44-yard line. Duncan received the pass and cut up field when Wake Forest line backer Justin Jackson ripped Duncan’s helmet off as he was breaking down open field for a touchdown. Instead of allowing the running back to continue his breakaway run for a Duke touchdown, officials stopped the play and merely charged the Wake Forest defense with a face mask; a 15-yard penalty, no touchdown.
Article 17 of the NCAA rulebook states that “a player whose helmet comes completely off during a down may not continue to participate beyond the immediate action in which he is engaged.”
The problem isn’t around player safety, the NCAA has given defenses protection to target key offensive players and remove them from the game with the new regulation.
For example, no huddle offensive attacks, such as Texas Tech and Mississippi, wear out power defenses that shut down the run attack and have enough breath to contain the passing game. Defensive coordinators are forced to contrive defensive schemes to slow down aggressive power attacks and allow their defense to regain momentum, i.e. remove the helmets. Under the new regulation, once a player has had his helmet removed during play he must sit out one play before re-entering. This poses problems in late game play with close scores.
Mentioned in a Sports Illustrated column from early September, Jim Brunswick posed the question of how long until the new regulation will cost a team a win. For example, in a late fourth quarter drive down to the red-zone, a linebacker removes the helmet of the starting quarterback on third down, forcing the offense to resort to their backup to execute a game winning play on fourth and goal. Under the new law the defense will only suffer a personal foul but will still have an advantage to control the potential winning drive with a second string quarterback under the center.
After the bounty scandal the New Orleans Saints defense faced this past summer, the new helmet regulation has given defenses a protected bounty program similar to Gregg Williams’ program. Intentional de-helmeting such as the incident in the Duke game not only threatens the player’s safety but also disrupts the rhythm of the game.
Because safety of players is an afterthought, the NCAA has set themselves up for failure.
The new regulation will backfire as more helmets are intentionally ripped off and exposed players are tackled during game play. Although the league hasn’t experienced a serious injury in result of its law, it surely is setting itself up for an injury that will make regulators rethink the consequences of the helmet law. The tables have turned to where the players are now mice in the league’s experimental regulation and are now waiting for a casualty.
For the regulation to be effective, there must be consequences to defensive players who continue to strip helmets off of offensive players. If the NCAA doesn’t reconsider the limits and consequences of helmet stripping, such as player ejections, a new form of defensive strategy will form within the next decade involving pulling helmets instead of old-fashioned tackling.
The intent of the new helmet law is with good heart, but until strict limitations are enforced, the consequences greatly outweigh the intent of safety and remove the physicality of the game of football.