College football's new helmet rule is flat-out terrible, and it is one that needs to be repealed during the 2012-2013 offseason. It's a rule that serves to give the illusion of safety, while ultimately helping to make the game unsafe from a couple of different angles.
Yes, the spirit of the rule is great.
Protect players from playing with no helmets if and when their helmet comes off. The fear of a helmet-less player being tackled and having his face bloodied or skull cracked is a tremendous one. It seems so logical to safeguard against the possibility.
I have no real desire to attempt to talk about helmet technology, shifting hook-up locations, jaw protection and helmet fitting at the collegiate level; people are so certain of their ignorant ideas it seems to be a waste of time.
For so many, "tighten it up" is the answer—as if players are still wearing the VSR4 helmets that were so tight on the ears and forehead you could play with a strap down and it wasn't a big deal.
I'm not even going to talk about how the rule impacts teams negatively as they are forced to thrust players into the game because of a helmet coming off during a play. No need to bring up the 10-second runoff either.
No, let's just stick to the safety issue—how a rule designed to cure a problem that never existed, at least from a safety standpoint, is creating two very significant safety issues in the game today.
This new rule promotes and rewards tackling high and getting the headgear off players, and it creates this need to wear helmets in an ill-fitting manner. Neither of those is for the good of the game or the players involved.
We saw it when Auburn was tackling Tajh Boyd on a sack. We saw it when, in the pile, players' helmets mysteriously popped off. Defenses are well aware of the headgear rule, and if you can get the offense out of the game with a subtle tug or a headlock-type tackle approach, then why not do it and help your team out?
It's not good technique; instead of grabbing body and going pad on pad, guys now have an incentive to grab high and try to twist the top off. Not sure how many of you all have had your neck wrenched around in a helmet; it doesn't feel good, and it most certainly is not safe.
And no, it's not a facemask penalty. It's merely a high tackle in most instances.
While tackling high and fighting in the pile to remove helmets is something to watch as the season progresses, the more pressing issue is the promotion of ill-fitting helmets.
Today's helmets are marvels when it comes to safety and helping reduce the risk of concussions. They're designed to distribute impact across the helmet and take more pressure off the point of contact. They also have supports dropped down to protect the players' jaw lines.
As a guy who wore a VSR4 for his entire collegiate career, these new helmets are light years better than they were just six or seven years ago.
Except none of that matters when you wear the helmet the wrong way. That doesn't mean too loose. These helmets, for each player, are fit by equipment managers and training staff that add or reduce air in order to ensure a proper fit.
No, this rule promotes improper fit through necessitating a "tighter fit."
Clemson, fighting to keep its starting quarterback in the game, was sending Tajh Boyd out there with a helmet that was improperly fit to his head. The quarterback could be seen grabbing his ear after he struggled to remove the helmet from his head, and as head coach Dabo Swinney said later (via ESPN.com), “I don’t know how we can get the helmet on any tighter. We’re basically about to cut his circulation off trying to keep it on."
Helmets are meant to be snug, not tight—comfortable, not suffocating. When you fit a helmet improperly, you damage the integrity of the safety features of the headgear. When that helmet is too tight, you're compromising its ability to distribute impact and for the interior to move with the head as it is designed.
It's a bad rule, plain and simple.
Ultimately, this rule is going to have a bunch of kids out there with their helmets fit incorrectly, because their trainers and/or coach don't want to deal with the possibility of the helmet coming off.
Sorry, but that's not a safety precaution; it's a rule that creates a whole new problem.