Like Train in Vain as the hidden caboose on London Calling, the NFL deftly slipped the new helmet rule into the list of proposed 2018 rule changes, item No. 11 on a 10-proposal list. And that initial cloak of secrecy has followed the new helmet rule for nearly three months since it made a sudden debut.
As explained by Dom Cosentino of Deadspin.com, the new helmet rule could dramatically change football as we know it. He’s one of the few (only) to see it that way. And, of course, I’m sharing his take in this space because I’m one of the few (only) to see it that way, too.
Consentino has learned from the league that the rule itself won’t appear as a new provision in the rulebook. Instead, the new helmet rule results from the removal of only three words from one of the many ways that a player can be penalized for unnecessary roughness. Of the 10 different types of unnecessary roughness, item (i) has been changed from “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily” to “using any part of a player’s helmet to butt, spear, or ram an opponent.”
In other words, the NFL has removed the key words “violently or unnecessarily.”
Which, of course, doesn’t make sense. If the butting, spearing, or ramming isn’t violent or unnecessary, how can it be unnecessary roughness? And why bury this potentially dramatic change in a portion of the rule book that articulates instances of unnecessary roughness by expressly removing the words “unnecessary” and “violent” (i.e., roughness) from the definition of the prohibited act?
It’s just another example of the scavenger hunt that the new helmet rule has become, a quest complicated by plenty of influential people claiming that there’s no cause for concern while the reasons to be concerned continue to pile up.
If the rule is consistently enforced as written, with all non-violent and necessary instances of butting, ramming, or spearing drawing a flag, the game definitely will change, especially in the trenches. If the rule isn’t consistently enforced as written, yet another arbitrary rule potentially will potentially mar the outcome of games when the foul isn’t called on one key play but is called during another.
Just in time for the proliferation of legalized gambling.
The new helmet rule has the potential to be a mess, because it already is a mess. At very best for the NFL, another significant disconnect will exist between the language of a rule and its application, creating way too much discretion and, in turn, an opportunity for officiating shenanigans. At worst, the helmet will be taken out of the game to the point where it will become glorified two-hand touch with linemen in two-point stances and the table set for a second fall football league to embrace the game the way it used to be played — and to siphon off NFL fans who will potentially reach their personal breaking points regarding an evolution of safety rules that may soon become a revolution.