Beyond the ACCtion: No Helmet, No Problems

Steve Phillips, Associate Director of Communications for the Atlantic Coast Conference, takes you Beyond the ACCtion. Today's article looks at the new NCAA rule and point of emphasis regarding the loss of a football helmet during play.

If you watched your share of college football during the 2012 season’s opening weekend, you probably saw the scenario play out more than once.

A helmet went flying in the heat of battle – a recurrence so frequent in recent seasons that it has almost become an expected part the game.

But unlike past years, the player who lost his held immediately stopped participating in the live action. As soon as the whistle sounded, he scurried the sidelines – usually without having to be prompted by coaches and teammates – and a substitute hustled onto the field in his place.

It was all in accordance with a new NCAA rule and point of emphasis in regard to player safety. If a player who has possession of the football loses his helmet during game action, the play is now immediately whistled dead. If a player without the ball loses his helmet, he must immediately stop playing and cannot continue attempting to make a block or a tackle.

And in both cases, the player who loses his helmet is required to come off the field for at least the next play.

There seemed to be little confusion – and no penalties – in the 10 season-opening games involving ACC teams.

“We had about 17 (helmets) that came off during ACC games, but in none of the instances did the player (continue) participating, which would have been a separate 15-yard personal foul,” said Doug Rhoads, the ACC Coordinator of Football Officials. “Nationally, we had about 180 helmets that came off at the FBS level, but of that number, there were only five instances where a player was penalized for continuing to participate.”

Rhoads said the rule change was emphasized to coaches and players during the preseason, and the effort seems to have paid off.

“We do a lot of preseason things – we meet with the teams, we meet with the coaches, we have scrimmages with the officials there,” Rhoads said. “That’s part of the reason we are there, to teach them about it. I think they were pretty much prepared (to accept the new rule). I’m just disappointed we had as many come off as we did.”

Rhoads understands the concern of some coaches and fans over the rule’s strict enforcement.

“Obviously, there are some critical plays, if it’s late in the game, you’re down by three and you’re trying to score and the starting quarterback’s helmet comes off or if it’s your starting linebacker … obviously there are game-impacting issues that go (along) with the helmet coming off,” Rhoads said. “But everybody is working toward the goal of player safety: The officials, the coaches, the players. The American Football Coaches Association and the NCAA Rules Committee have said, ‘Let’s put more emphasis on it.’ From that standpoint, it went well.”