Nick Saban
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - RammaJammaYellaHamma

Let's Really Think about Safety Instead of Playing Style

The Hypocrisy is Overwhelming

I’ve seen news reports recently about Arkansas coach Bret Beilma and Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban voicing support for an NCAA rule change to prohibit an offensive team from snapping the ball in the first ten seconds of the play clock.[1]  These kind of reports make my blood boil.  The coaches seem to be pushing for rule changes that conveniently benefit themselves and their football programs which run more deliberate offenses, while putting the brakes on more innovative offenses that attempt to generate a faster pace to the game.  Are they really concerned about player safety?  I don’t think so.  There are other ways to make the game safer for the players that really would work.  Pretending to implement player safety rules based on the play clock is not one of them.

I love the game of football as much as anyone.  I played in high school and one season in An injured football playerCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Johntexcollege.  Unfortunately for me, I was not big enough or athletic enough to become a quality college player.  I would have loved to continue playing, but as a rising sophomore I could see the writing on the wall that the team didn’t need my “talents.”  I don’t want to bash the game; nevertheless, I believe we can all agree that football is a dangerous game.  Any sport that’s played with golf carts to get players off the field or an ambulance lurking nearby can be classified as a dangerous endeavor.

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Player Safety is a Real Problem

The news stories about Junior Seau’s suicide[2] and the mental problems of long time players such as Tony Dorsett[3] are quite scary.  These guys were literally beating their brains up Junior SeauCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Ângulo ótimoplaying the game.  We are also generally aware of the steadily increasing size of football players at all levels.[4]  By increasing size, what I really mean is that the linemen are getting fatter.  It’s simple physics, mass times force increases the intensity of hits or, on a more elemental level, it’s harder to move a larger object (ie. a big, fat nose tackle) from a spot than a smaller and lighter object.  There is no way anyone could say the larger, fatter players of today are pictures of health.  In all likelihood, the heavier guys will die sooner than most people.[5]  Where is the concern for player safety in regards to mental capacity and circulatory system overload?[6]  I don’t hear much from the high level coaches on these issues.

The premier college football coaches are in a position to advocate rules changes that actually do assist player safety.  They don’t.  Coaches such as Mr. Bielma and Mr. Saban are hopeful of rules changes that just happen to fit better with their preferred playing styles and wrap up their advocacy in “safety” terms.  The hypocrisy is overwhelming.  Let’s consider some program rules to make the players healthier.


The NCAA is More Concerned about Legal Liability Than Player Safety

The  NCAA does not have a concussion protocol in the same fashion as the NFL.  Individual teams may make efforts to implement concussion protocols, but there is no requirement to do so.  What I find even more hypocritical is that the NCAA appears more interested in reducing the risk of legal liability[7] instead of working to enhance player health.  They even attempt to squelch reasoned discussion of the issue.[8]  The college overseers place the onus on the youngster to seek help with a head injury instead of the onus on the men running the program.  The player has to be educated about concussion issues and sign a statement College footballCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - responsibility to self report head injuries.[9]  While the education of the players about concussion risks is certainly a great thing, leaving the responsibility with the player to report an injury is quite convenient for the colleges.  The colleges and their highly compensated employees need to have some responsibility to assist with player concussion safety as well. 

Adopt a Concussion Protocol That is not Only the Responsibility of the Players

The NCAA needs to adopt a player protective concussion protocol.  Get the guys off the field until they are healthy and ready to go.  Don’t leave the responsibility in the players’ hands regarding their safety.  Guys in their late teens and early twenties aren’t known for considering long term consequences of their actions.  I certainly didn’t at that age.  I’m sure these same coaches could tell stories for days about the foolhardy things done by their players.  Why are those same players solely responsible for seeking out concussion treatment?  The coaches know better.


I think we can all agree that giant sized linemen such as Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots are not a picture of health.  Large guys can be excellent football players because the nature of their positions is that they only have to take a limited number of steps each play.Vince WilforkCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA   These guys aren’t running marathons.  In fact, for nose tackles like big Vince, their function is more to be an immovable anchor.  They aren’t required to move much themselves, they need to clog things up so that the more mobile linebackers can crush the quarterback or the running back with the ball.  You can clog up the middle of the field better if you are bigger, and fatter can certainly be a component of bigger.

If we’re so concerned about running too many plays for players, then maybe we also should consider implementing rules prohibiting guys with an excessive body mass index from being on the field.  In the old days of football, guys mostly played on offense and defense.  They played “both ways.”  Interestingly enough, those guys tended to be smaller.  If you want to have players who can stay in the game for more plays without being tired, then play smaller guys.  It just so happens that programs such as Arkansas and Alabama would prefer not to have to trot out smaller, well conditioned athletes.  They spend four years bulking these guys up to the fullest extent possible, Warning signCredit: wikipedia commons public domaian - the programs would have some wasted effort if required to use more aerobically functional athletes. 


I don’t admit to having all the answers, or even many of the answers, in terms of how to make football a safer game to play.  The game itself is inherently dangerous.  Diddling around with the play clock isn’t the way to implement any sort of systematic safety scheme.  This type of rule change just happens to fit with the preferred playing styles of certain coaches at the pinnacle of the college game.  How convenient for them.

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