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Coaches Should Be Fined for Illegal Hits

Why should players shoulder the entire burden?

Steve Dykes

Penalties for hard blows to the head are going to be a major issue in college football this fall. Ejections are coming for certain kinds of hits, and I'll bet the majority of the ejections we'll see are going to be controversial at the least.

I don't see any reason why coaches shouldn't bear some of the penalty for illegal hits along with the players. The best way to get through to coaches that they are responsible for ensuring player safety is probably to affect what seems to motivate them the most: money. If we are to really get bad hits to the head out of football, coaches should be fined for the kinds of hits that will get players ejected.

It's coaches' responsibility to teach safe and proper tackling, after all, and they set the tone for what is acceptable on their teams. On the one hand, you have things like "hit to the echo instead of just the whistle" and the Saints' bounty program; on the other, you have Chris Petersen bringing in rugby players to help teach tackling that doesn't cause head trauma. It all starts at the top.

On the topic of head injuries specifically, there are a surprising number of coaches with a casual, blasé attitude about them. I'm going to pick on Bo Pelini here because his is the most recent representative quote that I know of, but he's far from alone:

You read that correctly. The implication here is that the integrity of a game—a GAME—is more important than the mental faculties of the game's players. That mindset is a despicable one that needs to be wiped out entirely. Seeing as how changing minds through persuasion alone doesn't always work, then achieving a reasonable facsimile of having that mindset gone universally might come from making it a very expensive one.

Let's not forget the big picture here: college football is a sport run by, well, colleges. Institutions of higher learning should not be sponsoring activities that, in their regularly allowed and non-accidental practice, cause damage to the brain. It is no tragedy to anyone or anything if the stewards of the sport end up protecting athletes' brains too much. Doing the opposite is the actual, real danger.

For those reasons and more, players alone should not bear the burden of penalties for bad blows to the head. Coaches should too, and making their pocket books lighter is probably the best way to do that. Coaches have to fully understand that they are responsible for safe play more than anyone, and making them directly accountable for their players' actions on the field is the only way to be sure they do.

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