I'm not going to applaud the SEC for suspending Trae Elston or DJ Swearinger for their "dangerous hits on defenseless players."
I don't think the SEC made a strong play for player safety and, quite frankly, I find the rule to be nothing more than a very NFL-esque reactionary policy to hits that look bad on television. As in, if a hit looks bad enough then fine the guy, regardless of how the contact was made, if head area contact was a product of leading with the shoulder, if the receiver played a role and the like.
Unfortunately for Elston and Swearinger, college kids don't make money, therefore the only currency they have to pay their penance in is games. Elston got an entire game. Swearinger will be sitting for this Saturday's Mizzou contest.
There's no need to bemoan the myriad issues that I have with the rule. Instead, let's merely focus on the rule itself.
Much like the new helmet rule, this one stinks.
Anyone who's done a shred of investigating into the post-career woes of football players understands that the "devastating hits" that have drawn the fines, and now the suspensions, are not the issue at the crux of the problem. You should know that wide receivers and quarterbacks, the two groups who are so readily defined as "defenseless," are not at the heart of the concussion-safety conundrum.
No, the heart of the matter revolves around linemen and linebackers. Yet, this rule, much like the NFL's rule, is not set up to protect the players who suffer the most ill effects. Rather, the rule is set up to penalize what people see and what looks the worst.
In just a couple months' time, three prominent ballplayers—two from the Big Ten and another from the Pac-12—all decided to call it a quits from the game due to lingering head-injury effects.
Here's a hint: They were not candidates for "protection" from a rule like the SEC has forced into action. Andrew Sweat, a former Buckeyes linebacker, retired from football due to concussions instead of pursuing an NFL career. Jimmy Gjere, a Minnesota lineman, hung up his cleats for the same reason. UCLA's best defensive player entering 2012, Patrick Larimore, was forced to do the same.
Concussions and their effects are real. Yet, instead of addressing them, the SEC's new rule is designed to appear to have an impact when it doesn't. They get to toe the line for safety while not actually doing anything about it.
As we stated here at Your Best 11 over the summer, the lip service is nice, but there's enough research for steps toward safety to be taken. Unfortunately, the SEC's "step" is not a real one. Rather, it's a move that draws the support of safety advocates without actually doing much in the way of making the game safer.
In the end, the SEC gets a "gold star" from Joe Fan for caring about safety. The league and its member institutions don't have to spend a dime to actually use the tools to improve the quality of care given to their players, and everyone wins.
Well, except the linemen, linebackers and running backs who could benefit from some of the impact monitoring and hit-count technology that already exist in the marketplace.