Hartman: NFL invites more problems with latest rule change


Did the NFL just take another step toward banning football?  

That’s a fair reaction to the new rule against “lowering the head” the league announced Tuesday.  

I realize a lot of early freak outs on social media turn out to be overreactions, but in this case extreme concerns are justified.  

Literally applying the rule as written would significantly change the game and greatly reduce its appeal to play or watch.  

That’s also a good indication the rule will not be literally applied.  

In case you missed the late-afternoon news dump, a part of the “unnecessary roughness” section of the rulebook was amended to read simply, “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” 

Previously, the rule banned initiation of “forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against at opponent shall not be a foul.” 

All of that language was removed in favor of more simple wording that invites all kinds of problems in enforcement — even more than we find in the generally intolerable college targeting rule

Banning all helmet contact is not feasible or necessary, but that is effectively what eliminating the last line about “incidental contact” could do, at least based on my interpretation of what lowering the head means because that happens in some form or another on nearly every tackle. 

It looks like they are trying to make the rule less specific, which was a good idea in defining a catch but is problematic in tackling as long as the head remains on top of the shoulders. 

The biggest problem with the college targeting rule is that it’s too broad. That’s why even while changing behaviors (eliminating some gratuitous shots to the head) it has been an ongoing problem for the sport. 

Therefore it stands to reason if the new version in the NFL is even broader, it will lead to more unintended consequences.  

However, numbers from an ESPN story about the new NFL rule indicate change might not be as drastic as feared. 

According to NFL research, nearly one out of every two helmet-to-helmet hits caused a concussion in 2017. That's up from a ratio of one out of every three in 2015.

Since we’re told earlier in the story there were 291 concussions last season, it stands to reason there were 600 or so “helmet to helmet” hits last season. 

Considering the number of plays in a season, that is a very small number, so there is hope the rule will be applied narrowly and only the most egregious-looking hits will be penalized. 

Will that be the case? 

Guess we’ll have to wait and see... and probably fear the worst in the meantime.  


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Youth may serve young Bengals defense well vs. Panthers
Youth may serve young Bengals defense well vs. Panthers

The youth of the Cincinnati Bengals defense might actually be a benefit this week when they are faced with the task of stopping an offense unlike most NFL teams. Cincinnati (2-0) travels to play the Carolina Panthers (1-1) on Sunday, and Carolina brings an offense that looks more like what a lot of the young guys faced recently in college – ...
Unbeaten Northmont at Wayne in GWOC showdown
Unbeaten Northmont at Wayne in GWOC showdown

Every high school football team is fixated on that special opponent. Doesn’t matter if it’s Week 1 or Week 10, that game is a constant presence. “Honestly, this is what we hoped and prayed for,” Northmont coach Tony Broering said about a Week 5 showdown at Wayne on Friday. “We’ve targeted this all year. …...
Ohio State football: With Urban Meyer back, who calls offensive plays?
Ohio State football: With Urban Meyer back, who calls offensive plays?

Urban Meyer’s return to full coaching duties this week for Ohio State football revives a favorite pastime around Columbus: Speculating about who will call the plays the rest of the season. Armchair quarterbacks have loved this game for at least as long as there have been armchairs and quarterbacks for one simple reason: Everyone wants to know...
Prep football: Fenwick-Alter rivalry continues with GCLC North showdown
Prep football: Fenwick-Alter rivalry continues with GCLC North showdown

It didn’t take long for Dan Haverkamp to start hearing about the significance of Fenwick High School’s football rivalry with Alter. “I think probably within my first hour in the building, I had somebody come up to me and say, ‘Hey, beat Alter,’ ” said Haverkamp, in his first season at the Falcons’ helm. &ldquo...
Undefeated Springfield 4-0 first time since North and South merged
Undefeated Springfield 4-0 first time since North and South merged

Unbeaten Springfield (4-0) landed the knockout that reverberated through Greater Western Ohio Conference football last week. How else to explain a historical 49-6 blitz of host Centerville? Following three straight relatively close defeats of Lancaster, Fairfield and Hudson by a combined 13 points, the Wildcats were at their quick-strike best in shredding...
More Stories