This year, the NCAA enacted a new rule to help ensure that players are protected by their helmets, and that no shortcuts are taken (not snapping buttons) by the players which might increase the inherent risks of the sport.
This is a great concept, because helmets falling off obviously put your head at risk. If you’re on the bottom of a pile and your helmet was off, that’s going to hurt. Hitting a head against the metal of another helmet hurts (I did this in high school football once.) And, in high school, I knew friends that didn’t like tight helmets (mostly quarterbacks, receivers, and cornerbacks) that did not snap all of their buttons – while people on the line like me often had red chins because we had the huge chin straps and helmets on tightly.
Mostly, it would take a complete fool for a running quarterback, runningback a lineman, or linebacker to wear his helmet lose.
That said, at the Georgia Tech / Virginia game, Tevin Washington lost his helmet several times in piles on the goal line. Similarly with Boyd at the Auburn / Clemson Labor Day game. But you could tell that their helmets were strapped down, TV showed how red their heads were (indicating helmets were probably even too tight.)
Some replay evidence shows some “coincidental” arm motion of defensive players when these helmets are coming off. Here are my thoughts:
- After the Whistle – If it’s after the whistle is blown, that’s obviously a late hit AND a hit for the head. That should lead to ejection.
- Closer Eye on Facemasks – Dog Piles are hard to watch, but if you’re going to enforce a helmet rule, you need to watch more closely for anything resembling facemasks; if not for the main reason that Facemasking significantly injures / makes prone the neck. (yes, it really hurts)
- Closer eye on HorseCollar and Head Hits
- Harshest Penalties – Facemasking to make a helmet fall off can’t count as 1/2 the distance to the goal and repeat of downs when you’re on the 3, it needs to result in such a penalty that nobody wants to come close to looking like they’re reaching or aiming for a helmet. Maybe this means the lame result of an automatic touchdown, or ejection of a player.
Mostly, it’s a hard to answer question. Is making a star player sit out fair punishment when the hit causes a helmet to come off too? Should quarterbacks be able to have ref’s check their helmet for 5 seconds every new set of downs (like receivers check to see if they are on or off the line). How do you distinguish the intentional abuse of the rule versus a hard hit?