NCAA’s helmet rule is a bit much

The more things stay the same, the more things change.

OK, I know that’s backward, but follow me here. The first weekend of college football is officially upon us, and with come five rule changes for the 2012 season that were aimed at protecting players.

And while I agree with most of them, I’d like to go back to the NCAA Football Rules Committee with hat in hand to get them to reconsider the new helmet rule.

The rule, known as 3-2-4-c (FR-47), states that if a player’s helmet comes completely off during a play that isn’t a direct result of a foul, the player must sit out a play.

I think they’ve gone too far.

To penalize a player whose helmet comes off through the normal course of play by making him sit out a play seems a bit drastic. I understand the logic, which is to make sure that players properly fasten their chin straps and that their helmets fit properly, but the new rule seems to be extreme to me.

Nowhere was it more evident than in the Colorado-Colorado State game on FX on Saturday, where helmets flew off four separate times.

The first two happened on Colorado kickoffs, where it’s obviously not as crucial, but nonetheless bothersome. The other two came on running plays, both by Colorado State. Again, these plays didn’t have an impact on the game, but that’s not the point.

This is: I saw this happen several other times Saturday, and I don’t think you want to have a rule where a key player has to sit out on a crucial play.

Here’s a look at a few other significant plays from Saturday:

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The game: Northwestern at Syracuse

The situation: Northwestern had the ball, third and 15 at the Syracuse 27-yard line with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Syracuse led 41-35.

The play: Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian rushed for 9 yards and was pushed out of bounds by Syracuse’s Keon Lyn, who was penalized for unnecessary roughness, giving Northwestern a first-and-goal at the Syracuse 9-yard line.

My take: This goes to prove you can have monster calls in the first week of the season. This call likely determined the outcome of the game, because Northwestern went on to score the winning TD with 44 seconds left. To me, this could have gone without being called. Lyn initiated contact before Siemian was out of bounds, though maybe he did give him an extra push as he crossed the sideline. I have always said that the game needs to be officiated the same in the fourth quarter as it is in the first quarter. Although it’s a judgment call, it just didn’t seem enough to merit a foul. Also on the play, Northwestern got an extra break on this play when wide receiver Tony Jones blocked Syracuse’s Jeremi Wilkes in the back and it wasn’t called. Had it been called, both penalties would have been enforced, which still would have given Northwestern a first down.

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The game: Colorado at Colorado State

The situation: Colorado had the ball, third and goal from the CSU 3-yard line with 4:11 left in the third quarter. CSU had the lead 16-14.

The play: Malcolm Creer rushed 2 yards to the CSU 1, then fumbled. The ball was picked up by CSU defensive back Austin Gray, who took the ball 99 yards for a touchdown. After a booth review, the play was overturned, ruling that Creer’s knee was down.

My take: This was a correct reversal. Creer’s leg was down as he was extending the ball out toward the goal line and before the ball had broken the plane. The ball is dead at that point. Can you imagine the game without instant replay now? Most of the talk from this game would have been about the original call on the field being incorrect and Colorado State being awarded a touchdown it didn’t deserve. Replay has become such a huge part of the game and often makes the difference of who ends up winning or losing.

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The game: Hawaii at USC

The situation: Hawaii had the ball, third and 12 from its 45-yard line with 26 seconds left in the second quarter. USC led 32-0.

The play: Hawaii quarterback Sean Schroeder was sacked by George Uko and fumbled, the ball recovered by USC’s Zack Kusnir. The officials ruled Schroeder was down by contact, but after a booth review, the play was overturned and ruled a fumble and USC was awarded the ball.

My take: This was a good reversal, as the ball was loose before Schroeder was down. Let’s look at some of the college verbiage that pertains to this play, some of which was referred to by referee Shawn Hochuli. First of all, the replay official must determine whether a play has a “competitive impact” in the game. Obviously, on this play, a change of possession is considered to be a big play. Second, there must be “indisputable visual evidence” that the ball was loose before Schroeder hit the ground. There was. There also must be a “clear recovery” in the “immediate continuing action after the fumble.” There was. Anything less than this would require the replay official to stay with the call on the field. This is the terminology that is used in the NCAA rule book. Replay officials are expected to follow these guidelines.