Helmet to Helmet Penalties and the SPTR’s -- A Researched Rant

Throughout the season, our defensive players have been penalized for “helmet-to-helmet” hits.

I’ve replayed many of those penalties and, in my opinion, most have occurred in an ambiguous context -- one in which it is difficult to determine which player, the offensive or defensive, “initiated” the contact.

Here’s what I mean by that: Let’s say our player is moving in to make a waist level tackle on a ball carrier and the ball carrier lowers his head to try to drive through the tackle. There is helmet to helmet contact. In most of those cases, the defensive player is penalized.

Yesterday, we had a varian on that. We had a WSU player about to receive a pass lower his head because the ball was thrown low; our player was already occupying the lower plane; we received a penalty.

In watching game film, I’ve seen this pattern over and over. The defensive player is committed to a “line” and the offensive player lowers his head into it. Helmets hit. Penalty on the defense.

The penalty is always on our defense -- never on the ball carrier.

One might conclude from the SPTR enforcement patterns that the Rule is what lawyers would call “strict liability” -- if a defensive player’s helmet hits an offensive player’s helmet, it’s an automatic penalty on the defense -- not matter the intent of the the defensive player. Helmets hit. Automatic penalty against the defense.

And, that’s how it’s been discussed by the people who call the games -- sometimes with criticism that it is a bad rule.

It would be a bad rule -- if that were what the rule says. But, it does not.

In this case, it’s the application of the rule, not the rule itself, that is bad.

Chalk this mess up to the SPTR’s who as usual, are exercising very poor judgment in applying a good rule.

Here’s what the rule says:

Targeting/Initiating Contact With the Crown of the Helmet

ARTICLE 3. No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul. (Rule 9-6.)

Notice the key words -- “target” and “initiate”.

Element 1. Targeting

Most lawyers would say that the inclusion of “target” means that it is not a strict liability offense -- that in order for there to be wrongful helmet-to-helmet, the player must have, in some way, intended to use his helmet “as a weapon”. (emphasis added)

We know this from the commentary that accompanies the rule:

PROTECTION OF DEFENSELESS PLAYERS AND CROWN-OF HELMET ACTION—In 2008, the committee introduced a separate rule

prohibiting initiating contact with the helmet and targeting a defenseless opponent. These actions are now in two rules: Targeting/Initiating Contact With the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 9-1-3) and Defenseless Player: Contact to Head or Neck Area (Rule 9-1-4). Use of the helmet as a weapon and intentional (targeted) contact to the head or neck area .... “ (emphasis added)

Element 2. Initiating Contact

In the scenarios I set forth above, one must determine who “initiated” the contact. My position: In most of the cases in which we’ve been penalized, it is difficult, if not impossible, to say whose helmet was the “initiating” force.

To properly make the “helmet-to-helmet” call, the SPTR must find that these two elements exist at the same time: the player initiated the contact intending to use the helmet as a weapon.

The SPTR’s have been blowing this call all season. Anyone surprised? Not me.

Why? Because THIS IS A JUDGMENT CALL, NOT AN AUTOMATIC CALL, and our SPTR’S have shown themselves to lack judgment. Either they do not understand the essence of the rules, or they are incapable of applying them.

In either case, they are ruining the games, tarnishing the reputation of our conference (most penalized in the land), our team (2nd in penalties in the land), and ruining games.

I think what may be worse, is that they are creating ambiguity in the minds of players and coaches. You cannot know how to play the game, or teach it, if you cannot know how the rules will be enforced. Rules are supposed to give guidance, establish fence posts. These rules do. But, they are being destroyed by inconsistent enforcement.

I feel competent to analyze this set of rules.

I’d like someone like AHMB, IE, or MuirCoach to take a look at some of the pass interference calls AND the rules to let us know whether the pattern of enforcement there is as arbitrary as here. Price and Hester have their problems, but there have been calls against them that, when viewed on replay, seem mystical. In the Arizona game, it seemed that any time there was a pass thrown, if we had a defender near by, it was interference. And, does the “catchable ball” rule still apply?

One last point -- the call on McKay where he was pushed into a Cougar after the play was over. I can understand a ref missing that one. If he does not see the push, only the result, I get it. But, it should be reviewed by the guy in the booth who can see everything.

My bottom line: Scott has to do something about our ref’s. Yes, we have committed some stupid penalties. But, 2nd in the nation? I don’t buy that it is all on us. I think the SPTR’s are calling the games in ways that other conferences are not. And, that’s to the detriment of all of us.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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