Tuesday, August 18, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Football’s new rules wrong for the game

Leader sports editor

College football fans will see some calls this year they’ve never seen before. As is often the case, the rule makers hurt the game more than help it.

Players will now be forced to leave the field for any equipment violation, not just for losing their helmet. These equipment violations include everything from not being properly padded to not tucking in their jersey.

It also bans facemasks with too many bars and jerseys tucked underneath the shoulder pads to reveal the stomach.

This is a particularly odd rule considering the NCAA ignored a 2010 study that showed cheerleaders whose uniforms show midriff were at a strikingly higher risk of developing eating disorders.

Nevertheless, the naval gazers at the NCAA suddenly decided the crop-top jersey presents a competitive advantage, even though the practice goes back at least to the 80s.

Also, get ready to see your favorite team penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct when a player helps his teammate out by pulling another player off a dogpile. Not only is this rule unnecessary, it’s exactly the opposite of the direction the committee should’ve gone.

For years, football has actually needed rules that penalize players for dogpiling. They usually occur after a fumble. One or two players will be on the ground. One usually has possession and the other is trying to take it, when a dozen more people pile onto the scene. The players are on the ground. The ball is dead. The play is over. It’s dangerous and it’s a huge waste of time for six more guys to slam into the growing mass of bodies.

Piling on should be the penalty, not un-stacking the pile.

Football is under attack for the very real health risks it involves, and they’re making rules that penalize players who are trying to alleviate that risk.

And it’s not just college rule makers going in the wrong direction.

The Arkansas High School Activities Association has taken a wayward step by eliminating ties in nonconference games. The former rule allowed overtime in conference games because those games mean something. Nonconference games ended after four quarters regardless of the score.

An unofficial Leader survey showed that most coaches like the change, but those coaches are, respectfully, wrong.

It’s an unnecessary risk for no reward. The only argument for it, by every coach surveyed, boiled down to “nobody likes a tie.” Those weren’t the exact words in most cases, but that was the basic premise.

The first argument to not play overtime in nonconference games is simple. Any injury in overtime of a nonconference game is a senseless injury that could’ve been avoided if a longstanding rule had not been changed just because our obsession to win is so strong that we extend it to things that do not matter.

And the time of year nonconference games are played make it more dangerous. It’s often still very hot. Players are very often not in top shape yet, and injuries are proven to be more likely when athletes are fatigued.

In Arkansas, nonconference games have no bearing at all on a team’s chances of making the playoffs or winning a state championship, unlike some other states.

Some other states count all 10 games. It seems illogical and rife with opportunities to pad the schedule, but those systems do exist.

If nonconference games now have to play overtime, they should at least count for something also.

A game several years ago between Fort Smith Southside and Broken Arrow, Okla., played in Oklahoma, was tied at the end of regulation. Barry Lunney Sr. coached Southside at the time and didn’t want to play the overtime, but it meant something to Broken Arrow. If that game had been played on the east side of the state line, Broken Arrow likely would’ve been stuck with the tie.

Also, the one and only argument for ending all ties, that being that nobody likes them, is not always true. Sometimes ties are good for one team or another.

Everyone approaches the tie game theoretically from the standpoint of thinking they should win. Nobody considers the possibility of losing in overtime. Nor do they consider those teams that don’t win very often. Only six Arkansas high school games ended in a tie last year, and one of them was North Pulaski vs. LR Hall. That tie ended a long losing streak for the Falcons.

What about the huge underdog team with a smaller roster and smaller players, that stopped a long drive at the goal line as time expired? That team would be a lot happier if the game could end there, than it would be to go into overtime and lose.

As football is trying to mend its growing reputation as being too dangerous, as more and more studies reveal more and more threats to young people’s health, as training staffs and safety videos become more prominent, the AHSAA changes a longstanding, perfectly operative rule, making the sport even more dangerous, all for games that mean nothing.