The National Collegiate Athletic Association has begun to show leadership in response to growing evidence linking football and brain injuries. Last month, its football rules committee proposed that players who target the heads of opponents will not only cost their teams 15 yards in penalties, but will also face immediate ejection from the game. There were 99 such penalties in major college football last season that, under the new rules, would result in ejections.
Under the rules change, which could be finalized next month, a player ejected in the first half of a game would miss the remainder of that game. A player ejected in the second half would miss the remainder of that game plus the first half of the team’s next game. Such ejections are fair, since hits to the head often knock out the victims for one or more games; making the perpetrators sit out, too, is appropriate retribution. But there’s obviously a more urgent reason for the rule change: It provides far greater incentive for players to avoid the kinds of hits that could injure their opponents for life.
The National Football League should adopt the same rule. It is abundantly clear that helmet-to-helmet and shoulder-to-helmet hits still abound in the professional game at intolerable levels, despite efforts to flag them more often as penalties. It is one thing to commit a personal foul that costs your team 15 yards; it is quite another to get yourself thrown out of the game. This rule just might provide a welcome tipping point in the battle to reduce head trauma.