Image licensed from USA Today Sports
After just two weeks worth of preseason football, scores of NFL fans are already riled up. After just of 33 preseason games, NFL referees have called 51 helmet rule penalties. 43 of them have been assessed to defenses while eight have been called on defenses. What is the helmet rule? Well, it’s the latest stupid rule that seems to have been introduced for the sole purpose of watering down a great sport and causing mass confusion. In a nutshell, players are no longer allowed to lower their helmets when they attempt to tackle an opponent.
Any player who lowers his helmet to deliver a hit is given a 15-yard penalty with provisions for ejection, suspension, the assessment of fines, and public shaming on social media for the most severe infractions. Now, this all sounds fairly reasonable on paper, but it’s proving to be anything but in real situations. There has already been a slew of these penalties called against players who appear to be performing perfect form tackles.
Even worse is that the officials on the field don’t appear to be on the same page when it comes to enforcing the rule. Players, coaches, and fans are left scratching their heads in confusion, and this isn’t good for football. It appears this rule was conceived by a group of lawyers hell-bent on protecting their NFL masters from further lawsuits stemming from head injuries. These suits have likely never played the game or even watched it. Nevertheless, they know what’s best. These same Bobby Buzzkills will likely be the same people that get body checking and slap shots banned from hockey and “dunkin’ on people” outlawed in basketball.
Naturally, as with most new rules that are implemented in any professional sport, it can be expected that there will be an adjustment period for all involved. The NFL recently conducted a conference call with the competition committee to discuss the new rule. In the end, the NFL stood by the rule and refused to change a thing although they did clarify that “inadvertent or incidental contact” with a helmet or face mask during the course of play should not result in a penalty. It was also confirmed that helmet violations are not reviewable.
Several fans, coaches, and players have criticized the new rule. Not surprisingly, a very opinionated Richard Sherman weighed in on the subject referring to the rule as “idiotic.” Minnesota Vikings’ coach Mike Zimmer claimed that it will “cost people some jobs.” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther summed it up nicely when he said that he appreciated the spirit of the rule, but he questioned the practicality of enforcing it. He was quoted as saying “But at some point, it is football.”
Not everyone is unhappy with the new rule and, not surprisingly, NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, is one of the few that think this rule is great and the league has done an excellent job in demonstrating what constitutes a violation through a series of videos that were released.
Regardless of what you think about the helmet rule, it looks like it’s here to stay. Football purists might believe that the next logical step for the league to take would be to get rid of the helmets and pads altogether and replace them with sweatpants that have flags hanging out of their waistbands. Let’s just hope that things are sorted out by the time the regular season arrives.
Speaking of things like the helmet rule that has a lot of people confused and causes yet more delays football games, there is also the matter of what exactly constitutes a catch? This question has been raised on many occasions in recent years. Perhaps the most recent example of mass hysteria over the definition came in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots last year.
To refresh your memory, Pittsburgh’s tight end Jesse James appeared to catch a pass from Ben Roethlisberger and score a go-ahead touchdown in the dying seconds of an important game which would have altered the universe in unimaginable ways. The rules seem pretty clear but they still seem to have a certain degree of ambiguity around them. Simply put, a player that goes to the ground while making a catch has to have control of the ball before he hits the ground. In the Jesse James case, the ball came loose as he crossed the goal line and he was tackled before he could regain control of the ball. That is why it was not ruled a catch.
To be precise, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 says that "A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner. (As was the case with James) If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. (Which James did not) If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete." That should clear things up.
It seems so easy to those of us sitting in our easy chairs who are treated to slow-motion instant replays from a variety of angles immediately following any given play but it isn’t quite the same on the field. Things happen in the blink of an eye and even the most experienced NFL referees need to pause and take a second and even third look. That is why these plays are reviewable. Of course, that doesn’t mean that officials will always get it right.
One of the other rules that have come under fire recently is the one that goes something like “if you fumble it through the end zone and it goes out of bounds then it’s a touchback”. What makes this rule so, as Richard Sherman might say, idiotic is that the defending team didn’t gain possession so, by definition, it should not be a turnover. This rule could be changed so easily but, alas, it is another one of those frustrating rules that the NFL brass has no desire to change. It’s no wonder that Valium sales spike on Sundays!
Finally, another rule that you might not be aware of is one that penalizes any player who makes contact with the head or neck of a long snapper. This one has actually been in the books for a few years but the NFL is going to be enforcing the rule this year with extra diligence. Long snappers have always been quite vulnerable and the NFL wants to do all they can to protect them. Many will argue that this rule doesn’t go far enough but at least it doesn’t go too far like that moronic helmet rule. Don’t get me started on that one again!!