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SEC Responds To Questions About Suspension Of UM’s Elston

On Tuesday of this week, the Southeastern Conference handed Ole Miss defensive back Trae Elston a one-game suspension for a wicked lick he made against UTEP receiver Jordan Leslie in the fourth quarter of a 28-10 Rebel victory last Saturday.

Here’s the hit in question:


Trae Elston Huge Hit (LandShark) Ole Miss


The league’s press release regarding the suspension read as follows:


“This action was the result of a flagrant and dangerous act which occurred at the 3:18 mark in the fourth quarter.  The action is in violation of Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA Football Rule Book, which reads, ‘No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder,’ and Rule 9-1-3 which states, ‘No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet.’”


Ole Miss fans weren’t happy.  Others out there began to smell a conspiracy.  Heck, in what might be the single silliest thing I’ve ever read — prepare to laugh Vanderbilt fans — one sports radio host penned a piece suggesting that SEC commish Mike Slive might have suspended Elston while ignoring a hit Vandy’s Andre Hal put on South Carolina’s Justice Cunningham because Ole Miss is bad “while Vandy under second-year coach James Franklin was becoming a media darling.”

In terms of all the “Slive and the media are out to get us” emails I receive — and I get two or three every day — most come from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt fans.  Way ahead of the rest of the pack.  So I know Commodore fans will howl at the idea that Slive and SEC were looking out for VU.

Just for comparison, let’s look at the hit Hal put on Cunningham:


Play of the Game – South Carolina at Vanderbilt


Nasty.  And in my view, that play could have resulted in a suspension, too.

But for kicks, let’s look at one more hit that ended with a suspension last season.  This one resulted in Arkansas’ Marquel Wade being ejected from the game and suspended.  (I’m pretty sure Arkansas was one of the league’s top teams and James Franklin hadn’t become a media darling yet, so I’m not sure what the conspiracy theorists would say about the one below.)


Marquel Wade gets an illegal hit on Jonathan Krause


More on that one in a minute.

I wanted to get to the bottom of why one play earns a suspension and another doesn’t.  How does the SEC determine who sits and who plays?  (And for the record, I believe the league should absolutely be consistent in its rulings.  I also believe that there is never anything wrong with erring on the side of player safety.)

SEC associate commissioner and chief PR guy, Charles Bloom was kind enough to share some info with


“1.  Every game gets reviewed by the Coordinator of Officials (Steve Shaw).  Coaches are invited to send in specific plays for additional review and they get an explanation as to the play.  Any communication is between the school and the conference office.

2.  Differences between the UM/UTEP hit and the Vandy/Carolina hit:

a) In the UM hit, the defender has his head down prior to contact and makes contact with the crown of his helmet into the facemask of the receiver.  In the VU hit, the defender has his head up prior to contact and while there was initial contact with the helmet, it was at the side of the helmet.  The crown was not used by the defender.

b) A flag was thrown in the VU-USC hit and should have been thrown in the UM-UTEP hit.

c) By rule, the definition of a defenseless player is ‘A receiver whose focus is on catching a pass.’  NCAA Playing Rule 9-1-4 states, ‘No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder.  When in question, it is a foul.’  Also, NCAA Playing Rule 9-1-3 states, ‘No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet.  When in question, it is a foul.’

d) The NCAA has made ‘Protection of Defenseless Players and Crown-of-Helmet Action’ a point of emphasis this year.”


Now, I’ve received dozens of emails from people saying that in the photo of the hit I posted Tuesday,  Elston’s shoulder is buried in the chest of the UTEP receiver.  I wrote on Tuesday that it looks to me like the crown of Elston’s helmet is hitting the receiver right in the neck/throat beneath at the base of his facemask.  According to Bloom’s response, it seems the SEC office apparently saw it that way, too.











As it turns out, Ron Higgins of The Memphis Commercial-Appeal was also doing a little digging on this issue.  He spoke with Shaw, who is now in his second year as the league’s coordinator of officials.  And he wasn’t pleased that a flag was not thrown on the play:


“It should have been flagged and I don’t know why (it wasn’t).  I do know in my heart of hearts that (Elston) had no intent to do anything but break up a pass.  But what we saw was the last two or three steps before delivering the hit, he begins to lower his head and makes contact with the crown of his helmet.”


Shaw also weighed in on the Vanderbilt play:


“The Vanderbilt player hit the defenseless South Carolina player in a heads-up fashion, not lowered.  And even though their helmets hit each other on the side, most of the force of the blow is to the should of the South Carolina receiver.”


Higgins then ended his column thusly: “So, folks, it’s all about reinforcing player safety.  Losing a player for one game to suspension is nothing.  Just remember Chucky (Mullins).”  Having gone down the same path on Tuesday, I’m guessing that Higgins is receiving threatening and/or obscene emails right about… now.

My view on this situation hasn’t changed a lick since I first viewed the play, folks.  When in doubt, throw the flag and hand out the suspension.  Now, that needs to be done even-handedly, but I’m not a conspiracy theorist who believes the SEC office wants to help some teams and hurt others… so I think they try to be even-handed.  And if you heard from 14 fanbases who all believe the world hates their school, you’d probably get a better feel for why I blow off such talk.

Some have said I’m simply anti-Ole Miss.  Kind of odd considering that I wrote prior to the 2010 season that I was hoping for a Mississippi versus Carolina SEC Championship Game (since neither team had been before).  Some Mississippi State fans have viewed me as Johnny Reb ever since.

Others — including one angry person this morning — believe I’m just a mouthpiece for the SEC office.  The mad man this morning sent me an email that read: “You only walk to the same beat as the SEC office and perpetuate their injustice.  You are no journalist, you sir are bought and paid for.”  Well, he might want to tell that to the league office because I’m pretty sure they didn’t like me suggesting that they were being cowards when it came to their new football scheduling rotation.  They probably liked it even less when The Sporting News mentioned that piece on its site.

Other folks have claimed that this is all just one big knee-jerk reaction because there were four serious injuries on Saturday including a broken neck.  To that I say, well, what better time for a knee-jerk reaction?

One thing that I believe does stand out in all of this — and it’s why I showed the Arkansas hit from last season — is the fact that when a defenseless player winds up on his back, barely moving, apparently injured… the league tends to hand out a suspension.  In the Vanderbilt hit, South Carolina’s Justice Cunningham was right back up and at ‘em.

Should that make a difference in how a play is viewed?  Probably not.  Should coaches teach their players to roll around like soccer or NBA players or punters after contact?  Possibly.  But I think it’s human nature to think a play looks worse when someone doesn’t get up after it.

In the end, I still believe that the SEC and the NCAA need to do all they can to protect the athletes on the field.

You may disagree.  You may say I’m just a hater of Ole Miss or Arkansas or whoever it is I’m supposed to hate today.  You may say I just back the league on everything.

All I care about is the prevention of broken necks and backs.  I was in the stands at Ohio Stadium in 2000 when Penn State’s Adam Taliaferro was paralyzed.  I remember the Chucky Mullins play.  As a New England Patriots fan, I also remember Darryl Stingley being paralyzed.

Say what you want about me and my opinion, but as long as the SEC office is doing its best to prevent future serious injuries on its playing fields, I think the league is in the right.  Regardless of what team is losing a player for four quarters.



@SEC_Chuck @secprguy I guess this means suspending one player each week as long as they do not play for Alabama!


@SEC_Chuck @secprguy so pretty much the sec can suspend a player for the same penalty its up to there judgement


@blakesbook That's the rationale they're citing as to why it was treated differently than the Vandy hit.


@heathradio a little technical IMO. it used to be leading with the head, now it's leading with the head…. down.

The U Fan
The U Fan

According to the defenseless player rules it appears that the need for defensive players is almost extinct.  As soon as a quarterback cocks his arm back to pass, you must let him pass.  As soon as a receiver turns his head to catch a pass, you must let him catch it.  The whole thing is ridiculous, and sadly not the game that I grew up watching.  Plus maybe someone should look into the human body.  How many inches are between the top of the chest, and chin?  How many inches tall is the helmet?  You do the math, and realize that the two helmets collide regardless when the Ole Miss player plants his shoulder into the receiver's chest.  I'm not going to claim conspiracy, but I call BS.

SEC Fan44
SEC Fan44

What if the SEC does not suspend another player the rest of the year? Statistically there have to be more "illegal" hits in the next 3 months of games. Will OM fans have a valid gripe if no other suspensions? Doesn't look like its being handled evenly - subjective or not.


Bottom line, Tulane player gets hurt this past weekend so the SEC reacts.  If they are going to be consistent, and I'm all for that, then I expect to see 1-2 players suspended per week for the rest of the season.  As far as their explanation, what did you expect them to say?  We obviously see the play differently, and I'm a Vandy fan.


John -  Do you think the referees who didn't flag the Elston hit deserve to be suspended too?


Ole Mrs has been complaining for 40yrs now about suspensions, bias, why they dont win that state owns them they don't know what to do...When will they realize they are a bottom rung sec team, have been passed over by the newcomers and Vandy...Its all about players and coaches and they have trouble with both


This one place where erring on the side of safety should be the norm, I'd like to see them take it further in regards to helmets. If you're caught purposely trying to rip off a players helmet the penalty should be an 15 yard, automatic 1st down, and ejected from the rest of the game


I'm not a fan of any of the schools involved in those plays, but clearly that is a total bs explanation by the SEC. It is clear only one person knew a hit was coming and it wasn't the South Carolina player. There was a reason the utep player got alligator arms and tried to brace his self. I'm not a conspiracy guy and don't think there is one, but clearly this was blown one way or the other by the SEC

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



As I stated in the piece, I'd have had no problem with the Vandy player being suspended.  And, as I also noted at the bottom of the story, I think the fact that the Carolina player jumped right up made the play look less serious.  If he'd rolled around on the ground or been knocked unconscious, I'm guessing there would have been a suspension.


Needs to be handled evenly.  But these things will always be subjective.


Thanks for reading,



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