For the past few seasons, Alabama’s Nick Saban and a few other coaches have beaten the drum for player safety regarding helmets that fly off during the course of play. This offseason, the NCAA responded by creating a new rule. If a player’s helmet comes off during a play, he has to leave the field for the next play. The goal is to get players back in the habit of properly buckling their chinstraps.
With the new rule in place, the number of helmets flying off has now drawn the attention of fans, as well. Watch a game and you’re bound to see someone have to leave the field of play after losing his headgear. And always looking for any advantage they can find, you can bet that some coaches are instructing their players to help their opponents’ helmets pop off.
Take it from Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who twice lost his helmet during Saturday’s game with Georgia:
“The second time I could feel it, but you could also see on film where (a Georgia player) was pulling on it. It definitely was frustrating. You try to make adjustments so they couldn’t just pop it off. They say if they see a player intentionally pull it off you won’t have to come out. But I think teams will definitely try to do that more.”
Outspoken Mizzou receiver TJ Moe made his feelings on the new rule known to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“It’s a stupid rule that will be gone after this season. Stupidest rule ever in college football. If my quarterback leaves the game one more time because his helmet is ripped off, I’m going to lose it.”
Actually, it’s not a stupid rule. Players have been losing their buckets more and more often over the past few years and several factors could be involved — looser helmet construction, players refusing to fully snap their straps, etc. Old-timers will remember the days just 15 years or so ago when players would walk to the sideline, have to put their fingers in their helmets’ ear holes and pull the sides wide just to remove them. Now notice how many players can easily slip off their helmets simply by lifting up on the facemask. (Photo at left.)
The NCAA is trying to make the game more safe for athletes. With faster, stronger, bigger players colliding at greater speeds, the risk of injury is going up. With better technology, we’re becoming more aware of the damage done to the human brain by repeated hits and collisions.
Considering the massive lawsuits being filed against the NFL — how long before someone sues a college, a conference or the NCAA? — and frightening injuries — like the one suffered by a Tulane player on Saturday — it’s doubtful Moe’s assessment that the rule will go away after one year will actually prove true.
What’s more likely is that the NCAA will simply tweak the existing rule. The second time Franklin’s helmet came off, he was in a pile. (The first time he said it came off because his shoulder pads pushed it off… meaning he didn’t have it properly buckled.) Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel had this to say about the pile issue: “Obviously the helmet is getting ripped off in piles, and all of a sudden you have to put in your backup quarterback.”
MrSEC.com’s best guess? Next year the rule will be changed to where a player can stay in the game if his helmet comes off under a pile. If, however, it pops off in the course of a normal play, then he’ll be sent off for a down. Also, expect the NCAA to become more proactive in flagging players who rip opponents’ helmets off for unsportsmanlike conduct.
But the bottom line is that this helmet rule isn’t likely to be yanked from the books in 2013. Players had just better get used to buckling up their lids.