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SEC: “Dangerous Act” Earned Suspension

Watch the above video. UTEP is in white, Mississippi in red. The Miners’ quarterback, Nick Lamaison, throws a deep post to Jordan Leslie, the team’s second-leading receiver. The throw is high and outside – a receiver’s worst nightmare. Based on the video, Leslie knows the hit is coming: he tenses, pulling his arms back into his body, growing smaller as he peeks up towards Mississippi’s Trae Elston, covering the deep middle of the field. While the hit did not draw a flag, it did draw a response from the SEC: Elston has been suspended for the Rebels’ game against Texas on Saturday.

He’s suspended for the entire game, not just the first quarter or the first half. This designation is important, as in the recent past, hits like the one Elston delivered on Leslie typically accrued a fractured penalty – a half, for instance – rather than a one-game suspension.

With one significant exception: Arkansas’ Marquel Wade missed a game last year after delivering a vicious blow to Vanderbilt’s Jonathan Krause. Is there a difference between the two? We’re discussing various shades of gray, but it’s safe to say that Wade’s hit was “uglier” than Elston’s on Leslie.

The SEC found that Elston’s hit, which the league deemed a “flagrant and dangerous act,” violated two N.C.A.A. rules: “contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder” and initiating ”contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet.”

The rationale for a suspension comes from the SEC bylaws, which read as follows:

“This action is taken in accordance with Southeastern Conference Constitution, Article 4.4.2 (d) which states that a student-athlete may be suspended if it is determined that the student-athlete has committed a flagrant or unsportsmanlike act.”

Let’s take a quick trip into semantics. What does “defenseless” mean? Does it mean unprepared? If so, there’s no way you can view that video and deem that Leslie was not ready for impact. However, if “defenseless” means a player finished with his play, at a moment when one would not necessarily expect impact, then there’s no doubt that Elston violated the letter of the law.

Mississippi’s response was to stand up for a player athletic director Ross Bjork calls “our guy.” The university stated its case with the SEC but did not “discuss similar hits in other games,” reported Hugh Kellenberger, who covers the Rebels for The Clarion-Ledger.

The message here is that the SEC is taking a very proactive approach to player safety – and yes, that’s a fairly noteworthy takeaway. More than that, the SEC has now delivered a standard for future plays of this nature: Elston’s suspension now means that similar hits would warrant the same punishment. That’s big news once L.S.U. loses one of its elite defenders for a key SEC game.

And in terms of the suspension’s nationwide ripple effect, I’m curious as to whether other leagues will follow in the SEC’s footsteps. Could one league’s new standard become the F.B.S. standard? Yes, if that one league is the SEC.

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Comments

  1. quigley says:

    My problem with the ruling regards the facts they used to justify the penalty. Relying on the video:

    1. Elston didn’t hit the head or neck.
    2. Elston didn’t hit with his helmet.

    I didn’t play football beyond the 7th grade and am conflicted regarding its safety. However, if the sport is continued, it should be continued within the rule that are stated.

    The SEC’s fact finding is at question in this case.

  2. Bill condon says:

    Quigley, you need to put on your glasses. In The second view, it’s clear that Elston led with his helmet to the receiver’s chin. That is a vicious hit whether the receiver is ready for it or not, and whether the receiver has caught the ball or not. A player trained to make that kind of hit is a deadly weapon just waiting to find a victim.

  3. quigley says:

    Bill,
    I agree that the second angle is better and slowed it down before commenting. The greatest contact was with the shoulder to the sternum. The chin snaps back because of the inertial direction of the head followed by the force of the hit. Any helmet contact that Elston made was incidental and not significant.

    Slow it down and look yourself. If we disagree, so be it. That said it, is close enough that it is difficult to “coach” someone out of making this kind of play without altering the game significantly. If that is the goal, state it and make the change.

  4. Bill condon says:

    I have watched it several times, and even if I grant your point about the sternum, it still looks as if the,helmet hit the chin with considerable force. And I’ll point out that the receiver is not grabbing his sternum in pain. A lot of coaches have been teaching a safer and more effective method of tackling for some years now. The sport needs to change more quickly.

  5. Dan says:

    I am really torn on this one. Have seen several flags this year for big hits that just look like football to me. The game has changed drastically since I was younger. Lot of safety measures have been taken (and I agree with those), but this is supposed to be tackle football. If you throw the ball over the middle, you may get your reciever whacked. The hit was vicious, but not criminal, and it didn’t even draw a flag. Either teach the refs to call it consistently or let ‘em play. This, after the fact suspension on a play that didn’t draw a flag is a precedent I don’t like.

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