The Impact of the New Helmet Rule on College Football

When the NCAA announced its rules changes for the 2012 college football season, it was the kickoff adjustments that were creating the most uproar. Now two weeks into the new season, it’s the helmet rule that has coaches, players, and fans questioning its merit.

The NCAA’s new “Helmet Rule” requires a player who loses his helmet during play to leave the game for one play (unless the helmet was removed as the result of a penalty), much like what occurs when a player is injured and cannot leave the field immediately following a play. The player who loses his helmet is also barred from further participation during that play. If he continues to play without the helmet, he will be penalized 15 yards for a personal foul.

No one questions the intent or spirit of the rule. Clearly, the helmet rule was implemented for player safety, but the rule has created some interesting results. The new rule promotes and rewards tackling high since the removal of the headgear will mean that player must leave the field for a play. It also creates a situation where players may be wearing helmets that are fitted improperly. Equipment managers may over-tighten helmets to make sure they stay on defeating the purpose of the helmet.

Fans noted the impact of the rule during Week One in two nationally televised games. Clemson Tigers QB Tajh Boyd lost his helmet three times during their game with Auburn Tigers and his backup, Cole Stoudt, was forced into the game in his place. “I understand the rule, but for us it’s a little bit of a challenge when you run your quarterback, he gets hit and sometimes he gets in some piles, and sometimes helmets find their way from getting off their head,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

Swinney wasn’t the only coach expressing concern about the new helmet rule. In Georgia Tech’s Labor Day match-up with Virginia Tech, GT quarterback Tevin Washington lost his helmet prior to a crucial third-and-eight play from the Hokies’ 21-yard line. Washington’s backup, Synjyn Days, entered the game, ran for four yards and the Yellow Jackets kicked a field goal.

Johnson commented, “Well, clearly you don’t want to lose your starting quarterback on third down but that’s the rule. It looked like the helmet came off when he was on the ground. … It’s just one of those things.”

It will be interesting to see how the helmet rule plays out. Sooner or later, though, this rule change is going to affect the outcome of a game. Think about it. With under two minutes remaining in a game and facing a third-and-goal from inside the 10-yard line, your team’s quarterback is on the sideline because a defender ripped his helmet off on the previous play. Definitely not the intent of the rule, plays like that (deliberately removing headgear) are an unfortunate result.