Clardy's Corner: Combatting Concussions
Owusu made SU fans think hard about player safety
Owusu made SU fans think hard about player safety
Senior Columnist
Posted Sep 25, 2012


Early in the game a couple of weeks ago between Penn State and Virginia, an offensive lineman engaged Cavalier defensive lineman Jake Snyder. Snyder lost his helmet in the process, but continued on and tried to shed his blocker. He actually helped make the tackle on the Penn State running back. But the referees threw the flag. On Snyder. 15 yards and a personal foul.

Why? Chalk it up to one of the new rules in college football this year. If a non-ballcarrier loses his helmet, he can no longer participate in the play. He can’t make a tackle. Can’t keep blocking. Can’t run a pass route. He must stop playing immediately. If he doesn’t, it’s a personal foul and a 15-yard penalty against him. And he must sit out at least one play.

Really? That seems a bit silly doesn’t it?

The first two weeks of the season, every single game that I watched had to be stopped momentarily on multiple occasions while a player had to leave the field for having his helmet come off during the course of play. It was almost maddening to watch sometimes.

It’s no secret that concussions and player safety have been huge subplots in football, both college and pro. And, now that I live in the hard-hat city of Pittsburgh, whenever those topics get discussed in sports radio, someone inevitably says, “Ahhh, football’s just not the same! You can’t hit anyone anymore! Football is getting soft!”

Normally, whenever someone takes that approach to player safety and concussions in football, I have one response. Go stand on the sidelines of an NFL game or a top-level college football game, see how fast these guys are moving and how violent these collisions are, and tell me if you still think the game is getting “soft.” That would change your mind instantly.

There are other parts to college football’s new helmet rule. If the ballcarrier’s helmet comes off, the whistle is blown and the play is dead immediately. If a helmetless player gets blocked, it’s a personal foul and 15 yards on the blocking team.

I have no problem with those portions of the new helmet rule. They make sense to me. They can keep those for the rest of time, as far as I’m concerned.

But the other parts of this helmet rule? I think they’re ridiculous.

Hypothetical situation: You are a defensive player. An offensive lineman has you engaged. Suddenly your helmet pops off. And now the ball carrier is coming at you.

What are you supposed to do? Step aside and let the ball carrier go past you just because you lost your hat?

As a defensive player, you are taught to play the whistle. You are taught to fight through whatever obstacle is there and get to the ball. Period. Why should you be penalized for trying to do your job?

That’s exactly what happened to Jake Snyder, the Virginia defensive end who lost his helmet, stayed with the play, and got a personal foul called on him for his troubles. Just for doing what he’s programmed to do as a football player. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Another hypothetical: You are a quarterback. Your helmet came off as you were tackled. You’re not concussed, and you’re not showing any ill effects from either the tackle or losing your helmet.

But now you have to leave the game for a play. Oh, by the way, it’s now third and nine on a critical drive. And now you have to give way to some backup freshman who’s never taken a snap before. All because you lost your helmet.

Seems a little silly, doesn’t it? But it’s happened on a few occasions this season, most notably to Missouri’s James Franklin in some key moments against Georgia.

Before this fall, I didn’t notice kids losing their helmets nearly at all. This year it’s happening multiple times per game. In fact, SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw told the Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register this week that, on average, 3.2 helmets are coming off per game nationwide. 3.2. That’s a lot.

Now, how many times have you seen a player get concussed while his helmet is still on? If you’ve watched any amount of college football over the years, that number is probably too high to count. Meanwhile, how many times have you seen a player get concussed after his helmet comes off? I’ve watched more college football over the past 20 years than the average bear, and my answer to that is zero.

So, to me, this indicates that the helmet rule isn’t so much about truly increasing player safety. It’s more about the NCAA covering itself and making it seem like they’re taking a proactive stand against concussions and for player safety. But in reality, I’m not sure how this rule truly makes the game safer.

Football is an inherently dangerous game. I understand that. It seems like we’re reminded of it every week, both in college (no one will forget the terrifying scene in Tulsa when Tulane safety DeVon Walker broke his neck and needed CPR on the field) and in the pros (think of Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey getting ambulanced out of the Oakland Coliseum last weekend).

Sometimes the players have to be saved from themselves. I understand that too. That “warrior” mentality is often at work here, and there have been many instances over the years where concussed players are on the sidelines begging to get back in the game.

I’m all for making the game as safe as it can possibly be, but within reason. After all, safety and common sense don’t have to be separate things. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. You can have both. The overwhelming bulk of this new helmet rule doesn’t use common sense, and it doesn’t make the game safer.

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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS

For the record, no, I’m not a fan of a noon kickoff…

And for the record, no, I’m not a fan of Thursday night college football, either…

Washington’s best offensive linemen will be in street clothes on Thursday thanks to injures. That’s bad news for the young men that now have to face Stanford’s rugged front seven…

Hmmmm. I may need to rethink what Oregon State might be capable of this year…

The talking heads and the fans can talk about offense all they want, but I have a funny feeling that the team which features the best open-field tackling will have a leg up on everyone else in the conference…

Shame, shame, Washington State. Shame…

Up by 17 points, and a fourth-and-three at the Colorado 19. Why the hell didn’t the Cougs kick the field goal with 8 ½ minutes left? Indefensible…

It’s a good thing U$C’s rushing game showed up, because their passing attack, quite honestly, hasn’t impressed much at all this year. Do any of their passes go more than ten yards downfield?

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… well, there goes Denard Robinson’s trip to New York…

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… over 500 teams in MLB history have been 16 games above .500 after 108 games. The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates are about to become the first to finish the season with a losing record. Mind-blowing…

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… I hate to give Yahoo! Sports NFL insider (and Weenie) Michael Silver any credit for anything, but I think he might be on to something when he looks at the NFL today and mentions that boxing fell from its peak in the 1970s because for two reasons: the brutal (and sometimes fatal) toll the sport takes on its athletes, and the total lack of integrity in how its winners are decided. Hopefully Silver is making a real stretch here, and hopefully he’s looking at a version of the future that never happens. But at this rate, can you 100% rule out a similar fate for football four decades from now?

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PAC-12 PICKS

Thanks to Oregon and Arizona State for bailing me out. Trust me, I wasn’t feeling too good about my picks at about 10:00 p.m. Eastern last Saturday…

Arizona State @ cal. If you can’t stop a traditional running attack like U$C’s, how can you stop Fraud Graham’s go-go speed-speed-speed rushing attack? I like Arizona State by 21.

UCLA @ Colorado. The Bruins clearly took a step back by losing to Oregon State. Still, that can’t possibly mean they can lose to Colorado, right? Right? I like UCLA by 15.

Oregon State @ Arizona. Call me crazy, but the Beavers may just have the defense to get it done again. I like Oregon State by 8.

Oregon @ Washington State. Strange things happen during night games in the Palouse. But I can’t drink enough cough syrup to pick the Cougs here, and I’ve been fighting a losing battle against a cold for the past week. Certainly not after what I saw that Ducks defense do last week. I like Oregon by 48.

Last week: 3-2 (straight-up), 2-3 (ATS).
Last year: 27-19 (straight-up), 28-18 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy is in his 20th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 11th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy’s Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, hear him on Pittsburgh’s Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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