University of Kentucky safety Mikie Benton has avoided a suspension for what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit leveled against Florida tight end Jordan Reed on Saturday. As the league usually doles out its punishments on Monday, we sent a note to SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom about the matter Monday afternoon. We requested an explanation of why Benton’s hit — unlike similar hits from Ole Miss’ Trae Elston and South Carolina’s DJ Swearinger — didn’t earn the player a week on the bench.
Late yesterday afternoon, Bloom was kind enough to send along this official statement:
“At the 1:09 mark of the 2nd quarter, Florida’s Jordan Reed catches a pass at the Kentucky 34-yard line and the ensuing tackle by UK defensive back Mikie Benton draws a 15-yard penalty for initiating contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. In a required video review by the conference (NCAA Rule 9-6-2), it was determined the officials call on the field was correct, and this was a Targeting foul with contact above the shoulders and the penalty was properly enforced. Based on the fact that the major impact of the blow was initially to the shoulder area of the receiver, this act does not warrant additional actions from the conference office.”
Now let’s go to the video tape:
So does the league’s response make sense? Technically, it appears so…
Benton is clearly targeting Reed high in the photo above. But…
When contact is made, it’s made with Benton’s facemask and the crown of his helmet leading into Reed’s neck and shoulder area. So no, this was not a crown-of-the-helmet hit on another player’s helmet. But it could have been. Easily.
If the powers-that-be in the SEC and college football want to truly protect players from injuries — and themselves from potential lawsuits — they need to change the culture, so to speak. In suspending Carolina’s Swearinger for a head-to-head hit on a UAB receiver, the SEC cited the hit as “a flagrant and dangerous act.” Fine, we agree.
But in the case of Benton, Reed’s head moved to the left and not to the right. Had Reed simply moved a few inches in the other direction, then Benton’s helmet would have cracked him dead-on. And, most likely, Benton would have been handed a sit-down notice from Mike Slive and the league office. Instead, he walks.
Look, this isn’t about Benton. It’s about consistency. Many fans suggested that the SEC wouldn’t suspend a player from a good team when Ole Miss’ Elston was benched. The next week a South Carolina starter was suspended and we heard from a few: “Well, it’s still not someone from Alabama or LSU.” (Tell that to Les Miles.) Conspiracy theorists will always believe that the league office takes care of some schools and not others (which is rather ridiculous since the league office works for all 14 schools and it’s doubtful that 13 of them would happily bow before another).
We ourselves have stated that these calls are very subjective. What I see as “a flagrant and dangerous act” might differ from what you see as “a flagrant and dangerous act.” Ditto the folks in the SEC office. This can all be rectified rather simply, however.
Commissioner Slive said last week:
“These rules are for the protection of the health and safety of our players on both sides of the ball. It is imperative that our student-athletes understand the importance of this rule. Our motivation in making these decisions is to protect our student-athletes.”
Well, if the fans and media can’t understand what makes one play bad and another OK, how are student-athletes going to learn what is and what isn’t an offense worthy of suspension?
Easy. If a defender leads with his helmet and goes high into an opposing player he should be suspended for a game. The fact that “the major impact of the blow” might be over here or over there should not matter because, in part, that’s a result of how the player being targeted moves his body.
Yeah, yeah, we know. “That takes the football out of football.” Well, that’s what people said when players started wearing helmets, too. And we don’t buy it.
If the league is serious about stopping these types of “flagrant and dangerous” plays — as SEC officials have stated — then the league must make it clear that leading with the helmet and making a hit above the shoulders on a defenseless player — a receiver or returner fielding a ball — will result in a 15-yard penalty and a suspension. Period. End of story.
That would change the culture.
Otherwise, nothing’s going to change. Players will continue to tee-up opponents for the purposes of making a “SportsCenter” highlight and they’ll hope that their big hit will result in just a glancing blow to the head. Or that the receiver moves left while they move right. That doesn’t accomplish what the league says it wants to accomplish.
For comparison, we’ll show you three other hits below. (We showed you these same plays last week as well.) The differences between these hits and the one above are negligible, as we said at the time. Either each of these players should have been suspended for going high with his helmet or none of them should have been.
If the league simply hands out suspensions based on when helmet-to-helmet contact is made, it’s going to be handing out penalties based on random head turns. Instead, the SEC should try to do what it says it wants to do — prevent the act of going high in the first place. You can change the culture and teach that lesson by suspending all players who use their helmets to go high. Regardless of where that helmet happens to make contact with an opponent.
It should be the targeting that earns a benching. Nothing else. Now, that would be consistent.
Swearinger was suspended.
Vanderbilt’s Andre Hal was not.
Arkansas’ Marquel Wade was (last season).