By Harry Allison

The NFL’s competition committee issued a clarification to its controversial helmet rule but made no substantive alterations during a conference call yesterday.

According to a statement released by Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, the committee resolved “that there will be no changes to the rule as approved by clubs this spring, which includes no additional use of instant replay. But, Vincent added, “the committee also determined that inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or face mask is not a foul.”

The rule, as passed by owners and published in the NFL rule book, states: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” The wording does not specify the degree of contact required, and it limits the use of replay to reviewing ejections as a result of the rule.

In seeking feedback from around the league, the committee heard that players were concerned about instances when they were unable to avoid glancing contact with their helmets as they made shoulder or arm tackles. Officials also wondered if they were expected to penalize every instance of contact from a lower helmet, no matter how mild.

The committee never intended to penalize such contact, and inititally believed that the word “initiate” would draw a clear distinction between full and incidental contact.

NFL owners adopted the rule in March after a presentation from its health and safety office showed that the helmet-lowering posture was a key factor in causing concussions and spine injuries in recent years. Officials have penalized players for it 51 times in 33 preseason games, an average of 1.55 times per game, amid a chorus of complaints about its efficacy and practicality.


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