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Safety is the common ground motivating officials from the NFL and NCAA to convene in New York this month for an unprecedented in-season summit aimed at aligning player protection rules.
No, the NFL isn't angling to institute college football's wild overtime system. Defensive pass interference will remain a spot foul in the pro game. But power brokers on both sides sense a need for consistency when it comes to measures — chiefly rules and techniques — needed for a safer game.
"It's long overdue," Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president for football operations, told USA TODAY. "I think we can learn from each other. That's the intent."
It's been a tough season for the NFL on the officiating front, with numerous controversies stemming from how rules — namely an emphasis on the roughing-the-passer foul and a new helmet rule that bans lowering the head to initiate contact — are interpreted and applied.
Yet there's little debate that the rules in question are fueled by efforts to minimize football's inherent danger. The meeting at NFL headquarters on Oct. 30 is an extension of such objectives. It will include representatives from the NFL and NCAA officiating departments and competition committees, and likely other invested parties — including the NFL Players Associations and delegates from various conferences.
Vincent said the goal is to establish standards that apply on all levels of football, creating consistency that extends to a player's earliest days playing the sport. Vincent expressed frustration that players too often ascend to the NFL needing to learn new techniques, given the pro game's specific rules. He used the chop block, now outlawed in the NFL, as an example of how the rule book's goalposts move depending on the league.
"We just eliminated the chop block two years ago," Vincent said. "Well, on the high school level and in Pop Warner, it never existed."
Increased focus in recent years on the effects of head injuries have prompted numerous rule changes and officiating standards throughout football — including the college game's "targeting" rule and NFL's new emphasis on its pre-existing roughing-the-passer penalty and those helmet-to-helmet blows that occur all too often among all players.
"There is so much focus to do better at health and safety," Arizona State athletics director Ray Anderson, who chairs the NCAA Division I Football Competition Committee, told USA TODAY. "If the rules need to be tweaked or changed ... we just need to get this right."
Universal rules would conceivably allow for comprehensive techniques and a common approach for teaching, educating and officiating. Theoretically, recommendations that flow from the NFL and NCAA exchanges would be taken for further action with the rules-making entities at both institutions.
"This is an opportunity for collaboration," Anderson added. "Everyone is motivated. We've got to figure it out."
Anderson brings a unique perspective. He previously held Vincent's position in the NFL, which includes overseeing the officiating department. Anderson said that for years, officials from the NFL and NCAA met routinely at the scouting combine and that NCAA officials would participate in the annual NFL competition committee meetings in Naples, Florida. But the upcoming meeting is distinctive in that it will occur during the season, signaling an even stronger connection in the mission to align safety standards.
"No one wants to say it, but the NCAA is a feeder system for the NFL," Anderson said. "It makes sense, particularly when it comes to health and safety, to get as much information as possible and work together."
Concussions drop: The NFL announced Tuesday at is fall owners meetings that concussions were down 13.2 percent this preseason from the previous year.
In the 2018 preseason, there were 79 reported concussions, which was down from 91 in 2017. By comparison, there were 71 reported concussions in the 2016 preseason and 83 in each of the two previous years.
Additionally, the NFL said there were zero concussions during kickoff plays in 2018 preseason games, down from three over the previous year, "the first time we've seen that number over the past several years," NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said.
The NFL adopted several changes for 2018, including making kickoff team players stationary to prevent them from getting a running start against returners and penalizing any contact that is initiated by lowering the helmet.
Contributing: Lorenzo Reyes
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