In the last few years, concussions have become the hot-button issue in football at every level of the game, from Pop Warner to the NFL. The detrimental effects of concussions are unquestionable; they can end a playing career and derail a person’s life.
The NCAA has enacted a new rule for this college football season that is designed to take one more step towards decreasing the amount of concussions. The rule gives a 15-yard penalty to the opposing team and requires the ejection of any player who targets an opponent.
At Big 12 Media Days on July 23, coordinator of Big 12 officials Walt Anderson shared his stance on the hits.
“It’s those types of unnecessary hits to the head that are clearly avoidable that really create the biggest problem,” Anderson said.
“Unnecessary” is the best word for these hits. How will the game of football become worse by eliminating hits that do not occur at a high frequency and cause far more harm than good?
Nonetheless, this rule is bound to be called out by many fans as further “wussification” of the great sport of American football. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see big hits just as much as the next fan, but those who think that this is an unreasonable rule are completely disregarding the health of the same players they probably idolize.
This rule gives officials and the NCAA the teeth they need to enforce safety regarding defenseless players. A 15-yard penalty is simply not enough to completely deter these hits. No player wants to lose his team valuable yards, but ultimately defensive players are going to try to push the limits and see what hits they can get away with. One 15-yard penalty probably will not greatly affect the game.
But a suspension? That’s a real deterrent. Forcing a player to vacate the playing field and be replaced by a backup, especially one not up to par, can seriously hurt the team and is a crushing blow for a player who has prepared all week to play that game. No one will want to risk being kicked out of a game and draw the ire of their coach, teammates and fans just to give an opposing player a big hit.
The biggest knock on this new rule will be the subjectiveness with which it will be called, which is really the issue with every penalty in football. Officials are not perfect. I often disagree with referees and have yelled plenty of things at them that would probably disappoint my parents, but they are paid to know more about these penalties than you or I. They are tasked with knowing these rules inside and out, and they no doubt understand any penalty that results in a player being ejected is one to be taken more seriously than most.
Referees will not call targeting lightly. They will call it on those players who are guilty, and this penalty will send the message that the NCAA is not messing around anymore. These hits can lead to serious problems down the road, so players need to avoid making them in games or face serious consequences now.
Additionally, any time that targeting is called it will be subject to a video review, which is the best form available to reduce the subjectiveness of the call. Referees can take another look at the play from many angles to ensure they made the right decision. And believe me when I say that referees want to make the right call more than you or I want them to.
Football is all about discipline, more so than big hits. The best coaches in the world are the ones who teach their players to play disciplined football and to put the team ahead of themselves. If a player cannot respect the safety of their opponents, they can at least respect that committing this penalty will hurt their team far more than it has in the past. Players need to be able to play with enough discipline and self-control to hit another player below the shoulder pads, which is where they are taught to do so in the first place.
This rule is designed to increase safety for players whose bodies are still developing and, in my opinion, it is absolutely a great move by Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to show that the Big 12 cares about the players, not just the game.