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No Decision Yet From The SEC On Fanning Play; Will Flagrant Foul Rule Allow For A Suspension?

Get ready, conspiracy theorists.

The SEC office has suspended two players this season.  Mississippi defensive back Trae Elston and South Carolina defensive back DJ Swearinger were each benched a week for helmet-to-helmet hits back in September.  At the time, a few fans from both schools said that the SEC was simply picking on their teams and that the office would never suspend an Alabama player.  (Just as the league would never do anything anti-Kentucky in basketball.  Supposedly.)

Well, the SEC office hasn’t acted yet on a nasty takedown delivered by Bama defensive lineman LaMichael Fanning last Saturday.

When we asked associate SEC commissioner Charles Bloom if the league had a comment on the play or a suspension in the works, he responded with a quick:


“Nothing to report yet.”


That suggests that a suspension could still come.  And for the record, Elston’s suspension came down on a Tuesday while Swearinger’s was announced on a Monday.

As we noted yesterday, however, both of those players were suspended for a rule that is receiving special emphasis from the NCAA — and therefore conferences like the SEC — this season.  Defenseless receivers and punt returners are having their noggins protected from helmet-to-helmet hits by defensive players.

Here’s what the league said of Elston’s suspension:


“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.’”


And here was the league’s take on Swearinger’s suspension:


“This action is the result of a flagrant and dangerous act which occurred at the 5:46 mark in the third quarter (of South Carolina’s game with UAB on Saturday).  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.’

By playing rule, a defenseless opponent is defined by ‘one who because his physical position and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury.’  One of the example in the rule book is a receiver whose focus in on catching a pass.”


Fanning’s body slam of Missouri tailback Russell Hansbrough was “a flagrant and dangerous act,” but is their a rule to apply here when it comes to an SEC suspension?  On the field, Fanning was flagged for unnecessary roughness.  But does that warrant a suspension?

In theory, yes.  But perhaps not in practice.

As you can see from this 2010 NCAA release, president Mark Emmert said: “The health and safety of student-athletes is the reason the NCAA was created.”  The NCAA’s supervisor of officials Rogers Redding — who once oversaw the SEC’s refs — said: “Student-athlete safety is of the utmost importance, and the Association will continue to protect its student-athletes.”

But the specific rule up for discussion in that release was Rule 9-1-4… no initiating contact with a defenseless player in the head and neck area.  As a sidebar, the NCAA pointed out that it had also outlawed the dangerous “horse-collar tackle” in 2008 and outlawed wedge blocking in 2010.

A quick glance at the NCAA’s 2012-13 rule book takes the time to better define and explain the following player “conduct” rules:


* Striking fouls and tripping

* Targeting/initiating contact with the crown of the helmet

* Defenseless player: contact to head or neck area

* Blocking below the waist

* Late hit, action out of bounds

* Roughing the passer

* Chop blocking

* Contact against snapper

* Horse-collar tackle

* Roughing or running into kicker or holder

* Continues participation without helmet


Fanning’s tackle doesn’t seem to fit into any of those areas.  So what about the actions that can get a player tossed from a game:


* Use of prohibited signal devices

* Use of tobacco

* Flagrant fouls

* Two unsportsmanlike fouls

* Illegal cleats

* Contacting an official

* Fighting


The flagrant foul issue stands out, doesn’t it?  Well, further digging into the rule book, here’s how that’s described in Rule 2-10-1:


“A flagrant personal foul is a rule infraction so extreme or deliberate that it places an opponent in danger of catastrophic injury.”


In the view of, if the SEC is going to dole out a suspension to Alabama’s redshirt freshman backup for his lift-him-then-drop-him-on-his-head tackle, it’ll probably do so with Rule 2-10-1 in mind.  While “unnecessary roughness” is not a so-called point of emphasis for the NCAA and the SEC, player safety supposedly is.  Which means whether Fanning was forced to send letters of apology to Missouri or not — and he was — the SEC still needs to find some way to make it clear to other players that moves worthy of a wrestling ring do not belong on its football fields.  Suspending Fanning for a game would help send that message.

Rule 2-10-1 seems — from a very quick scan of the NCAA rule book — to be the area in which Mike Slive and the league office can act.  Or perhaps they’ll find another rule to use.  Or perhaps they won’t feel that there is a rule specific to this incident and they’ll decide not to suspend Fanning at all.

If they go in that latter direction, however, they’d better get ready for more folks in foil hats to claim the SEC office and the 13 other member institutions it represents are just “taking care” of Nick Saban and ol’ Bama.


John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Please no back-and-forth threatening posts in the comment area.  If I were the barkeep, I'd say "take it outside."  


Many thanks for reading the site, though.


All the best,



Although he should still receive a suspension.


I was angry that Saban didn't take him out of the game immediately. Thinking about it later, Saban may have thought it would do the kid some good to get his clocked cleaned by Mizzou's O line.


I think coach Saban heard about the conspiracy theories and got on the horn to Mike Slive last week.  Together, they figured out which player Alabama could afford to live without against Tennessee and then conspired to have him placed in a situation where he would act in exactly this way.  Remember the size difference between the running back and Fanning.  Coach Pinkel and Saban are good friends.  They probably recruited him, too, to make sure that Missouri's smallest running back was in the game.  Then, the SEC can suspend Fanning, a suspension that will certainly not hurt Alabama, and nix the conspiracy theory.  Therefore, the suspension of Fanning will actually be a far greater sign of conspiracy that not suspending him would ever have been.




John i beleive this player has/will be punished thoroughly by Coach Saban. He has already public stated his extreme displeasure with Mr. Fannings act and I feel sure he will learn a hard lesson from this. Whether the SEC adds any addition punishment will make no difference except to calm some of the anti-Bama/Saban favoritism mania that folks love to promote. Based on past issues like this I expect Mr. Fanning has already been internally suspended.


 @jrglisson When has Saban ever suspended someone? When has he ever kicked someone off the team when he didn't need their scholly to get under the limit? 

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



My initial thought was that Fanning would be disciplined internally as well.  But he was NOT removed from the Missouri game after that play.  He was in for at least two more plays as Mizzou O-lineman mopped the field with him.  So I can't be certain of the internal discipline.  If Bama coaches were truly steamed -- and they saw the play and replay of the play during the game -- they'd have probably pulled him then and there.


But that has nothing to do with the SEC's decision.  They should suspend or not suspend based on player safety, period.  Did the defensive player put the offensive player at risk unnecessarily?  Yes, so he should have to sit a week.  We've said that time and again in these situations and drawn the ire of just about every SEC fanbase in the process.  But the reality is -- you're either out to protect players or you're not.


In this case, Fanning could have seriously injured Hansbrough.  Saban can do as he pleases, but the SEC -- in this writer's opinion -- should hand out a one-game suspension.


As far as the "anti-Bama/Saban favoritism mania," I hope you're not directing that at us.  As with every other school/coach in the conference, we get about 50% of folks saying we love 'em and 50% saying we hate 'em.  When in fact, we just write about 'em and could care less who wins on a given Saturday.


Many thanks for reading the site.  And I hope Saban does make it clear to Fanning that that type of play won't be accepted in his program.  




Thanks for the reply John and no my cooments were not directed t you.It was primarily to tohose outside the SEC alrerady mounting a NO Bama/SEC team this year in the BCS. Coah Saban does not need me or anyone else to run intrerfeence for him And as a former player and coach I fully support palyer safety but also understand how a young man can get caught up in the moment and make a mistake. I thibnk/hope you agree that Alabama in genral and certainly under Coach Saban plays to a hight ethic standard of conduct. Enjot the reading each day.


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