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Are safety rules wussifying football?

FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira breaks down rules on helmet-to-helmet collisions.
FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira breaks down rules on helmet-to-helmet collisions.
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Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira was the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2004-09, having spent the five seasons previous to that as the league's Director of Officiating. He also served as an NFL game official when he acted as a side judge for two seasons (1997-98). Follow him on Twitter.

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Football is not for the faint of heart.

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However, some people think the new safety rules in both college and the NFL in regards to the rise of concussions have turned the players into wimps.

Those people should have their heads examined.

You don't want to see players being held up by the training staff because of helmet-to-helmet hits. There were three plays that happened on Saturday during Week 4 of the college football season that I want to focus on.

NO. 1: California at USC

THE SITUATION: Cal had the ball, fourth-and-13 from the Cal 22-yard line with 2:55 left in the second quarter. USC was leading 14-3.

THE PLAY: Cal's Cole Leininger punted 49 yards and it was returned 12 yards by Nickell Robey, who was tackled by Darren Ervin. On the return, USC's Junior Pomee put a helmet-to-helmet block on Daniel Lasco and was called for a personal foul.

MY TAKE: This is the NFL's version of a blind-side block. Lasco was totally defenseless. The NCAA rulebook defines a defenseless player as "one who because of his physical position and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury.''

Lasco's focus of concentration was clearly on trying to make the tackle on Robey. He never saw Pomee's block coming. When you are vulnerable like this, the rule makers are doing everything they can to eliminate shots to the head.

There's no question that Pomee could have avoided this shot by lowering his target and contacting Lasco in the chest area. To me, this hit deserves some form of discipline coming from the Pac-12, whether it's a warning or a suspension.

 


 

NO. 2: Colorado at Washington State

THE SITUATION: Colorado was kicking off to Washington State with 7:06 left in the fourth quarter. Washington State led 31-21.

THE PLAY: During the return, Buffaloes linebacker Paul Vigo was blocked by two Cougar players, Jeremiah Allison and Tana Pritchard. Pritchard hit Vigo with a helmet-to-helmet block, but no foul was called.

MY TAKE: This was a bit different than the USC-Cal play, but the result is the same. Like Lasco in the first play, Vigo also had to be helped off the field.

Vigo came off the Allison block and then was hit helmet-to-helmet by Pritchard. The whole notion of leading with the helmet has to be addressed on all levels of football because the consequences are severe.

One thing the NCAA did this year was it followed the NFL rule change, which moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line. This was done because the injury rate on kickoff returns is higher than the rate on every other play, and the NFL wanted to encourage more touchbacks.

The NCAA even went one step further, placing the ball at the 25-yard line after a touchback. The reason the NCAA did this was to encourage a receiver who fielded a kick in the end zone to take a knee, knowing the ball would be moved out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20.

Last season in college football, there was one touchback for every six kickoffs. Through the first three weeks of the 2012 season, there is an average of one touchback for every two-and-a-half kickoffs. So, obviously the rule is having the desired effect of less returns — and less chance of injury.

 


 

NO. 3: Southern Miss at Western Kentucky

THE SITUATION: Southern Miss had the ball, first-and-10 from the WKU 13-yard line with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter. Western Kentucky led 42-3.

THE PLAY: Southern Miss quarterback Ricky Lloyd completed a 13-yard pass to Tyre Bracken for a touchdown. WKU's Jonathan Dowling was called for a helmet-to-helmet personal foul and was ejected from the game.

MY TAKE: This is what you may see more of. The NCAA is going to love the fact that the official ejected Dowling. This hit was totally unnecessary. Bracken had completed the catch in the end zone, making this a dead ball and a touchdown. The hit was not only helmet-to-helmet, but it was late.

A 15-yard penalty is one thing, an ejection is clearly another. That has a much more dramatic effect than just penalty yardage and if a player thinks he would be ejected for a hit like this, it more than likely would serve as a deterrent.

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The NCAA has been more aggressive than the NFL in trying to protect players from helmet-to-helmet hits with its targeting rules. We all realize that some helmet-to-helmet hits are unavoidable, but in many situations like all three of these, they are.

Not only are the NCAA and NFL concerned with the players that are getting hit, but they are just as worried about the player doing the hitting. Leading with the top of your helmet exposes the player to neck injuries, which is why the focus is on tackling with your head up.

I applaud the NCAA for its aggressive approach to protect players on both sides of the ball.

Tagged: Western Kentucky, California, Washington, Washington State, USC, Colorado, Southern Mississippi, Paul Vigo, Junior Pomee, Daniel Lasco, Tana Pritchard

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