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How Can College Football Be Safer?

In a world where more and more is known regarding the human brain, how can the Big Ten and all of college football make the game we love safer?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of talk lately about how to make football safer. With a rising number of concussions, injuries and long-term brain injuries, it falls on the world of the NFL and the individual conferences in college football to find ways to make this game — one that millions of Americans love — safer.

The general response that many people have when it comes to many rules that increase the safety in college athletics is that football is a ‘gladiator sport’, a sport for men that is hard hitting, painful at time, and not for the weak. People who are in favor of rule changes are not so obtuse that they push to make football two-hand touch.

That said, people who oppose change would be ignorant to ignore the glaring facts that permeate every single Saturday and Sunday. The facts that show injuries, especially concussions, can cause long-term, irreparable damage to the individuals playing week in and week out.

Yes, these consummate professionals are being paid very well to play a sport. We get it. That does not mean, though, that changes shouldn’t be put in place to help promote a certain quality of life after their playing days are over. Whether it be a four-year college athlete or a ten-year NFL veteran, minor changes can be made to propagate life after football.

Eliminate Kickoffs

This is the easy one. Personally, I love the kickoff. The tides of a game can change in a single play. For ages the kickoff that had been a high-energy yet high-impact play. One guy going full steam one direction while his opposition is gunning for him in the opposite direction, full steam as well.

According to a study, an average-sized defensive back tackle produces 1,600 pounds of force. Just under one ton. That is on a standard tackle. You can likely double that for two forces going head on. There is a debate regarding ‘tradition versus player safety’ that comes in to play here. There are a high number of injuries season after season that come from one play, however.

In the event of the elimination of the kickoff, you could start each team at the 25-yard line, where they already start in the event of a touchback, and save many athletes from what could be life-altering injuries.

Mandatory One-Game Absence Following A Concussion

Concussions are something that have taken center stage in regards to player health and safety.

A concussion is caused by a strong head injury that causes the brain to rattle around in the skull, which can cause chemical imbalances or the stretching and damage of brain cells. Years ago the data we have on the effects of concussions was not known. Now, in 2018, we know pretty much what concussions do to a human, both short- and long-term.

Look at some of the bruisers that played in the NFL in the 70s and 80s. Many are a shell of their former selves. If an athlete has a concussion, even minor, they should be held out for the remainder of said game and their next game. This would also require independent consultants on the sideline to monitor whether they believe someone may or may not have a concussion.

If there is a chance that someone does have one, they should be pulled immediately and checked out. If at that time the test is positive OR inconclusive, they are out. If it is believed that an athlete may have a concussion, there should be no waiting, which is why this must be handled by an independent staff.

(Editor’s Note: And, to be honest, you could probably extend this for all injuries that occur during a football game. In short, if we learned anything from the Tim Beckman saga, if a player is injured, they shouldn’t be participating, no matter the circumstances. Make everything safer and don’t limit it to concussions — if you’re hurt, you’re out.)

Increase Penalties For Targeting

Targeting is defined as hitting a defenseless player above the shoulder pads or hitting with the crown of the helmet. As the rule is currently constructed, there is a 15-yard penalty as well as an automatic ejection. If the targeting takes place in the first half, the targeter is out for the rest of said game and the first half of their next game. If the hit takes place in the second half, the targeter is out for the remainder of the game and his next.

This rule needs to be stronger. There should be a 20-yard penalty as well as increasing penalties for repeat offenders. After your first ejection, your next targeting penalty will cost you two games, your third three, and so on. This penalty would reset each season, but must be enforced more stringently.

I understand that there are rare cases where a hit may not be avoidable. For these cases, an independent arbitrator would be needed to make a ruling specifically for cases where a hit is above the shoulders. If the hit is with the crown of the helmet, there is no change for an arbitrator to rule.

I understand that football is a violent sport. There may be no way to make this sport perfectly safe. However, we can do more to promote safety and long-term health.