September 16, 2011

Too big a hit?

The video below, with North Carolina Wesleyan preseason All-American cornerback Dwayne Hollis leveling Ohio Northern receiver Justin Wilson back in Week 1, prompted some discussion internally at D3football.com. And on Thursday, when Sports Illustrated and ESPN each noticed it, a lot more college football fans had questions.

Is the hit legal? Is it fair? Is it smart?

We turned to our own Keith McMillan, a former Division III starting defensive back himself, for his take:

I've watched the hit enough times to know I'm not on the fence about it. It is a hit similar to many others that don't get recorded and go viral each week. They are, in essence, part of the game and have been for longer than I've been alive. Players assume risk when they step onto the field; if you play long enough, you'll dish out your share vicious, within-the-rules hits where the other guy gets up and walks away, and you'll absorb some. I bet if we asked Justin Wilson, he would agree.

I'm all for form tackling; not only is it safer, its a more reliable way to get opponents on the ground. Certainly there are legitimate concerns about "launching" and leading with the head. The former I believe to be accepted in college football, and I am okay with until we all decide otherwise. Any tackling that puts a player's head or neck area at risk, I'm against, and almost every player would agree. Within circles of players and coaches, there are things frowned upon -- hitting after the whistle, dirty tactics in the pile, spitting, taking a cheap shot on someone away from the play when they aren't looking. Yet we all know players' heads and necks are off limits, and attempting to injure someone outside the flow of the game is a violation of that code. 

Knocking the ball loose from a receiver about to make a catch during a live play has never to my knowledge been something I'd see a player or coach reprimand one another for.

We've seen enough devastating injuries in D-III to know we need to be sensitive to the victims of any hits, legal, accidental or otherwise. We had our own concerns about putting the hit in the play of the week reel. We're smart enough to know we should listen to the medical professionals about the effects of said hits. And we know that the rules are in place for a reason, so that at the end of the game, everyone can leave under their own power, as we all shake hands after a game well played.

But it would be dishonest to feign outrage and pretend I think big hits such as this one have no place in college football. The game is about inflicting pain and breaking another man's will as much as it's about mental excellence or X's and O's. Most true football fans enjoy seeing a little pain doled out, so long as it's within the rules and doesn't cause a long-term injury to the hitter or the play who absorbs the hit.

- Keith

Further, putting your own head or neck at risk with poor tackling form just isn't smart.

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