Last week in college football there were at least three players ejected under the NCAA’s new targeting rule, and at least as many helmet-to-helmet penalties flagged in the NFL. These are important rules for both players and the
sanctioning bodies at both levels of football. The NCAA and NFL are both driven by money, as are the players. The players want to make as much as humanly possible (which I support) and the owners and NCAA want to spend as little as possible (which I support).
Here’s the fundamental problem: both sides cannot win. In their zeal to reduce the amount of concussion-like injuries in the NFL, the league turned itself into what many call the ‘No Fun League.' Teasing names aside, at the end of the day the change is best for the players, but not the fans. Allow me to expand on this - as fans, we generally only care about two things: wins/losses and fantasy sports. For the most part, fans feel no direct impact on whether a player is injured or concussed, and the only real impact we feel is if a player isn't playing because of injury or suspension.
The owners in the NFL and administrators in the NCAA have a much bigger stake in the game than we do. No, I won’t say the owners have all the liability, but honestly they have most of it. The game cannot be played without the players, but it also cannot be played without the owners who finance the teams we watch or the stadiums we sit in. For the record, I don’t have an extra $2 billion dollars laying around to buy an NFL franchise.
What everything boils down to is the owners want to make money and protect their investments. In fact, their investments are really no different than your retirement account, except for the fact that they’re a lot larger.
Players, on the other hand, want to play and they aren't interested in protecting themselves, but they should be. One can only play football so long before life kicks in. The average NFL career is less than seven years. What about college football players who never make it to the NFL? What’s their post-football career outlook?
I’m not suggesting players stop playing football, because for some that simply isn't an option, but consider this: after you play football, what are you going to do with your life? Owners won’t care about you unless you’re suing them, and fans will forget about you six months after you leave school or retire.
Uni Watch: Impact of helmet policy
As fans, we live in the here and now, but owners and NCAA administrators have to think about the long-term effects of how violent football has become. If that fundamentally changes the way football is played, so be it.
What would you think of football if one of your sons, brothers, or husbands had played football only to retire and not remember his name in 10 or 15 years? At that point is his playing career more important than his life?
The easy answer is no, and the rules aren’t going to revert back to where they were 10 years ago. That’s a continuing adjustment for fans. Game officials will rightly err on the side of caution to protect players from themselves.
The simple fact is that fans have no skin in the game, other than maybe a few hundred dollars here or there, while owners are gambling with billions and players are risking their lives. Think about that the next time a player is ejected or fined for helmet-to-helmet contact.