The NCAA Rules Committee spends each offseason carefully weighing the rules of college football, examining on-field issues from the previous season, and then producing a random series of new rules complicating the already impossible job of enforcing a full-contact sport's rules in real time. Unlike any of their student-athletes, they also enjoy a hot lunch courtesy of the NCAA.
This year's batch contains a rule that is delightful if you've ever wanted to see what your third-string safety looks like:
The Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a new football rule that requires players who target and contact defenseless players above the shoulders to be ejected, effective for the 2013 season.
If you are concerned about this creating another subjective officiating point that could possibly alter the entire course of a football game, you're being alarmist. These decisions are subject to review, and players will not be ejected if conclusive evidence can be presented to the contrary, like "It's his ball," "He can beat all of us up, and I didn't bring my gun," and "Our third string safety, who will replace the other two safeties we just ejected, is a wallaby wearing shoulder pads."
That wallaby's going to see real playing time this fall, and we're pretty excited about it. There are a thousand little unintended side effects of this rule, not the least of which is the cancellation and redaction of the following players' careers in their entirety. (Twitter: you helped with this, and for that we thank you.)
- Taylor Mays
- Major Wright
- Matt Elam
- Reggie Nelson
- Junior Rosegreen
- Vontaze Burfict
- Nick Fairley
- William Gholston
- Laron Landry
- Dwayne Slay
- Brandon Spikes
- Taylor Mays (worth a double ban)
Just for fun, try to enforce that rule on this disaster of a meeting between Jamar Wall and Zac Robinson. If you remember these two names and this hit, your testicles have already shrunken into you body out of sheer terror.
Wall clearly makes helmet-to-helmet contact, but so does the rest of his body with all the damage being done without leaving his feet. It's a shoulder shiver thrown into a moving target, and nothing like an attempt at a tackle. It's a hit, and that's the fundamentals problem football has from the lowest level up to the NFL. (Then again, he's supposed to tackle a man lowering his head at him at full speed, and who doesn't love the possibility of going low to make the tackle, finding your target's knees striking your helmet, and then on impact concussing you in the process?)
The point: it's going to be a difficult call to make, and when someone's arms flop out in that sick, fixed posting position on national television in front of a horrified live audience, it will be very, very difficult to be judicious in evaluating the offending object's intentions in a real-time scenario. They'll get ejected every time, without fail.
That said, it is a necessary attempt at a rule. It's also going to be unevenly applied from the start because of the game's basic speed and the desire to hit, punish, and obliterate rather than simply tackle.* We feel bad for the players--especially defenders-- that will revert to instinct and lead with the helmet in a big game, and for the officials who will have to risk getting their cars pipe-bombed when they eject said player for doing what he's been coached to do for years.
It's a shit situation all around, and that's why the rule should be suspension upon review from the conference after the game, not midstream when emotions are running high and reviews happen in the chaos of a live event. It's still subjective, but there's no way in hell anyone in the middle of a game is making a sound, composed decision about it--flawed, human officials already working with a giant rulebook included.
*Not that the two don't overlap at times, and not that we don't feel a deep guilty bloodlust in watching thunderous hitting. But if you want to mitigate the violence of football--and those pesky brain-related side effects down the road--then you start by writing the rules to discourage it. We'll miss it, we really will, but not nearly as much as a.) players will miss brain function, and b.) we'd miss football in a scenario when it turned into boxing or bear-baiting. Football will get less physical and involve less violence in the future because it is hurting people's brains. "Stop being a pussy" is not a counter-argument. No one wants to see Reggie Brown facedown on the turf again and think "I just watched someone die on the field."
There is also a rule that you have to spike the ball before the three second mark in order to stop the clock at the end of a game, mercifully saving referees from the pesky trouble of having to count to three at the end of games. Thank you so much for listening to the demands of football fans who clamored for more basketball-esque rules in our football.