College football's new rule, or new interpretation of an old rule, aimed at making the game safer brings to mind two plays from last season.
The first was Alabama defensive tackle Quinton Dial's cheap shot on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray -- football's equivalent to a sucker punch -- after Murray threw an interception.
The second was THE HIT of the season, when South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney blew up -- only slight hyperbole -- on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
Those two plays underscore what a disastrous rule this could be.
Here's how the rule has been amended:
"No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul. (See Points of Emphasis for a description of "Defenseless Player.")
Under the old interpretation of targeting a "defenseless player," both plays were deemed legal hits. Now both plays, according to rules officials, would now result in ejections.
Dial should have been ejected. It was a cheap shot in that it was unnecessary and a blind hit. Clearly, Murray was a defenseless player at that point.
It was dirty.
It was completely avoidable.
It was malicious.
It was uncalled for.
Dial simply found an opportunity to take a shot at a quarterback, and he leveled Murray. He should have been ejected, which would have meant he would have been suspended for the national championship game against Notre Dame. Who knows? Maybe, if given the opportunity again, Dial or some other player would do the same. Consequences are not always effective deterrents. But worse than losing playing time, Dial would have incurred the wrath of Coach Nick Saban.
The Clowney hit was completely different. It was fundamentally a perfect hit. Football players are taught that "low man wins." But running backs looking to break outside instinctively run upright until they see contact coming. Trouble is, Smith never saw Clowney until it was too late. In the split second before impact, Smith dropped just a little. Clowney, the best defensive player in college football, plowed through him. Then
Smith's helmet went flying, and it's a wonder that he walked off the field. It was the kind of hit that made football coaches scream, and made Smith's teammates cringe. One video alone has been viewed nearly four million times on YouTube.
But it was clean.
It was unavoidable.
It was instinctive.
To eject Clowney simply for playing hard-nosed football would be a travesty. Helmets are going to hit. That's why the players wear them.
Football is a violent game. As such, the administrators, coaches and
game officials entrusted with these young men's lives must make every reasonable effort to prevent injuries, especially head injuries. The game needs to be made as safe as it can with turning it into something that resembles intramural flag football. Eliminate the cheap shots on players fielding punts. Kickoff rules could be modified.
Let the replay official monitoring plays for review have a say in enforcing flagrant hits that the field officials might miss.
But some common sense needs to be applied. The penalty "unnecessary roughness" is broad enough to use as a tool to guard against malicious hits. Yeah, gray areas can lead to inconsistent enforcement. But rigid rules with zero tolerance and zero discretion make zero sense.