Archived Story

Our game has changed: is it for the better?

Published 10:15am Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Every year, Alabama football junkies get so geeked about the two A-Day games. We just miss football so much that even a glorified scrimmage is a chocolate covered, cream-filled donut after that first two weeks of the Atkins diet.
Let’s be real here, though. Spring football games are just like watching sweet, old married grandparents fight: You aren’t really sure who to pull for, and neither side is really being as aggressive as they could be.
That’s why it was so surprising to see an Auburn player ejected from their spring game last Saturday.
When I heard the news, I just assumed there was a fight and a player took a swing or removed his helmet.
I thought maybe an overzealous official mistook the player’s comment of “I hope you have a wonderful afternoon” for something much more colorfully distasteful.
The truth is, defensive back Jonathon Mincy was ejected from the A-Day game because of the new targeting rule to be implemented in the upcoming season.
Perhaps after last year’s putrid defensive performance, the refs in Auburn just forgot what a tackle looked like (Ba-dum-tish!), but video replays showed that Mincy AT WORST should have only received a 15-yard penalty.
However, ejections like this one may wind up being the norm across the country in 2013.
Which leads to the question: When does football stop being football?
Look, no one wants players to suffer unnecessary concussions or other injuries.
We have all heard the horror stories about the after-effects of huge hits.
But football is a violent sport by nature. Tackling can be rough especially now that players have gotten so incredibly big, fast and coordinated.
Safety should always be of the highest priority in all sports without a doubt.
But ejections should be reserved for players who intentionally disregard the spirit of the rules.
Occasionally there is inadvertent helmet-to-helmet contact that cannot be avoided. Are officials supposed to toss kids then too?
There has to be a gray area so that the game’s outcome isn’t decided by a player’s ousting resulting from a tackle that is a part of the game.
Granted, in some cases, players do intend to inflict bodily harm by taking a headshot. While it is always a sticky wicket to judge intent, I think we all have a pretty good sense of what is a dirty hit versus a clean mistake.
This new rule (as it seems to be written) punishes mistakes at the same level as cheap shots.
While I understand the point of attempting to create a learned behavior of below-the-shoulders tackling, it is a scary proposition to think that outcomes will be determined based on this new penalty.
Again, I am very pro-safety when it comes to football. But if we are going to eject players for Jonathon Mincy type-plays, how long before we do the same for chop blocks (which can be just as devastating to the victim’s knees)?
What about inadvertent facemasks?
We all want football safe. But we all want football to be football, too.
There comes a time when the powers that be tinker with a game’s rules so much that the game is inherently changed.
Here’s hoping this new rule doesn’t do that to football.
Robinson is a sports columnist for The Outlook.