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:
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:
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.)
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 MrSEC.com.
“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.
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