By TOM LEA
MADISON – Imagine the Wisconsin Badgers — say, in a late season, ultra-meaningful contest — were in the middle of this scenario.
They’re trailing by one point with approximately 17 seconds left.. They have the ball on their own 35-yard line, with everything on the line and no timeouts to work with. UW needs to score in order to keep pace in the Big Ten championship race.
Danny O’Brien drops back, fires a bomb down the sideline toward Jared Abbrederis. Sailing, Abbrederis has to dive in order to secure the grab, only as he touches down his head snaps forward and his helmet somehow pops off.
The play is already over, sure, but the damage is just beginning.
There are now eight seconds left in the game, and the result of the aforementioned play has the Badgers scrambling to get into position for what would be a game-winning 44-yard field goal attempt.
Only a little piece of yellow laundry separates that attempt — and a shot to win the ball game —from reality. But the official, speaking to 85,000 rabid Wisconsin fans eager to see what happens with the field goal attempt, announces the game is over.
This is similar to a scenario Bret Bielema discussed following a recent practice. With new nationwide helmet rules in play, any time a helmet comes off (unless it’s ripped off illegally by a defender) it results in a 10-second runoff during the final minute of a given half, assuming a team doesn’t have a timeout it can use to stop the clock.
In that situation, UW wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to even attempt the game winning field goal.
“You’re down by one point,” Bielema explained. “You lose the game without ever kicking the field goal because a helmet came off. We’re putting a huge emphasis on buckling it up. Sometimes you may not even know your chinstrap is unbuckled so we’re telling our guys to buckle them up.
“There’s a huge emphasis on it from our guys.”
That’s obviously the nightmare situation — the worst of the worst — for a rule that is aimed at protecting players from suffering head injuries without a helmet on. Should a player lose his helmet during live action, he must sit out at least one play.
If the ball carrier loses his lid throughout the course of the play the officials will immediately whistle the action dead. As long as everything goes according to planned, he will not be tackled without a helmet on. He will not wind up at the bottom of a pile without a helmet on.
Bielema said his team only had three instances of players losing their helmets during the entire 2011 season, so though it hasn’t necessarily been a major problem for the Badgers in recent years, it’s something that is still being discussed inside fall camp.
“I was blown away by the number of times helmets came off,” Bielema said. “There were teams that had 30 or 40 (instances). There were times when kids’ helmets came off back-to-back. They were slipping them on and slipping them off.”
Badger fans will remember back to last season’s inaugural Big Ten championship game when Chris Borland drilled Spartans receiver Keshawn Martin so hard his helmet popped off. Under the new rules, Martin would have had to sit out the next play.
Had he not been tackled and had the hit just popped the helmet off, the officials would have immediately blown the play dead. It’s something that will become enforced in 2012.
“It hasn’t been a problem for us in the past,” Bielema said. “But the thing that drove it was there were a lot of plays when guys would lose their helmets and they’d start chasing. There was one play when a defensive linemen was chasing and a guy came and blocked him. The guy got concussed.
“It’s just really dangerous stuff.”
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