FOOTBALL COLUMN: SAFETY POLICE MAKING MISTAKE AS IT RELATES TO VESTAL STANDOUT
By ROB CENTORANI
Broome County East Sports Report
Sometimes people ask me why I dislike adults so much.
I'll him and haw, throw out a "I can handle them in small doses" retort, but generally speaking it comes down to angles.
When you're with adults, you're always dealing with angles. You never look for the best answer or the right answer, you look for the proper angles that will improve your standing, or at least, appear to improve your standing.
Safety in football is a topic that has been contentious in recent years. Anyone who has read my football notebooks since season's outset has heard me refer to the "safety police" on more than one occasion.
So the New York State Public High School Athletic Association adopted a targeting rule a few years ago.
Let me list a some reasons why this rule is ridiculous:
1, High school players have far less practice time than players in the NCAA or NFL. One could make a case that an NCAA or NFL player is skilled and practiced enough to know where and where not to hit opposing players. High school kids get to practice in pads three hours a week. That's not nearly enough time to expect them to deliver hits in specific areas.
2, Plays are reviewed at the college and pro levels. That doesn't happen at the high school level. The official gets one look at the hit and then makes a decision whether to remove a player from the game. This seems absurd.
NYSPHSAA said as much when it changed its punishment for targeting in 2022. It said players ejected for targeting must miss the next two halves and that includes the game from which he was ejected.
"In the NCAA and NFL, a targeting penalty is reviewed in slow motion and a final determination is made if it is in fact a targeting call. The National Federation of High Schools does not allow video replay for officials and calls are being made in a split second by officials," NYSPHSAA said at the time of the change.
3, The safety police have attempted to legislate violence out of a violent game. Football is a contact sport and the reason it's so popular is because it's a contact sport. The sport thrives on contact. People who play the sport gain enjoyment because of the physical nature of the sport. This attempt to make football safer has created a sport that's not as much fun to play or watch.
4, "Well, what about the player safety?" the safety police ask. "Their brains will turn into mashed potatoes," say the safety police.
I've been covering high school football for more than 30 years. When I started, crack-back blocks, blind-side hits, targeting and I think even horse-collar tackles were all legal. Today, all that stuff is illegal. Funny thing is, I see about the same amount of injuries and they're the same kind of injuries -- sprained ankles, knees, shoulders and occasionally, the head.
What makes no sense is we're being told that head injuries are the main concern. Football isn't safe because kids are injuring their brains, is what they say. At the same time, we switched almost all of our fields from grass to turf. On grass, if you're tackled hard and your head hits the ground, there's some give. A grass field lessens the blow. That's not the case with turf, so by changing to a harder surface, we've increased the risk of head injuries.
5, Some parents won't let their kids play football because it's too violent and the risk for head injuries is too high. That's interesting because the most violent collision I've seen on an athletic field this fall came in a soccer game and there's not a close second.
In a Southern Tier Athletic Conference semifinal, Chenango Forks' Nate Raab was sprinting in one direction, Corning goalie Caleb Anderson was coming from the opposite direction at full speed, both pursuing a ball about 35 yards from the goal. The players collided, went airborne and both remained on the turf for a short time.
There was nothing malicious by either player, it was just two kids playing hard (the Corning player received a yellow card on the play, but I don't understand what he did wrong). Thing with soccer is there's no protective gear, no pads, no helmets, just kids in shirts and shots and there's plenty of contact.
About 10-12 years ago, I covered an Oneonta soccer team that had three girls suffer concussions in about a three-week span.
If a parent asked me which sport is more dangerous, especially given all the rule changes to football, I'd say soccer without hesitation.
This brings me to Vestal's Liam Nealy. It was announced Wednesday that Nealy will not play in the Golden Bears' Class A state football quarterfinal against Section 3's Whitesboro at 8 p.m. Friday at Vestal.
Nealy, a standout running back/linebacker, was ejected in the third quarter of Vestal's 40-14 victory over Horseheads in the Section 4 final for targeting. The hit occurred near Horseheads' sideline.
I wasn't there, but given what I've pieced together, it seems as if Nealy's hit was hard but legal.
After the game, Vestal coach Jim Crunden speculated that Nealy might play the whole game after the play was reviewed or miss the first half of the game. Armed with that information, I made some predictions Monday about the five state quarterfinals involving Section 4 teams. I made two predictions for Vestal's game -- one with Nealy playing the full game and one with him playing the second half.
I've seen Nealy play this season and he's very good -- fast and physical. He's every bit as important to the Golden Bears' roster as Joey Tomasso is to Waverly's roster, Adam DeSantis to Maine-Endwell's roster and Mason McCombs was to Windsor's roster.
With that in mind, I had Vestal beating Whitesboro, 28-27, with Nealy playing the full game and the Golden Bears losing, 40-14, with Nealy playing half the game.
Now that he won't play at all, it would appear Vestal's chances of advancing have decreased significantly.
And that brings me back to adults.
Assuming what I've heard about the play was correct and Nealy's hit that caused the ejection was legal, the common sense approach would be to say the official made a mistake and Nealy will be allowed to play the full game Friday.
Everyone would be satisfied with that call, including those who follow Whitesboro. Imagine Whitesboro wins a close game Friday and goes to win the state championship. Many people would rightly say that state title would need an asterisk because Vestal's best player was not allowed to play for sketchy reasons.
With one common sense decision, NYSPHSAA could right a wrong, reinstate Nealy and all sides would be fine with it.
Ah, but angles.
The adults won't do the right thing, because the targeting rule is there to protect the players. Player safety is of utmost importance, so we have to abide the ruling ... common sense be damned.
It's the wrong thing to do, all clear-eyed people know it's the wrong thing to do, but they're going to do the wrong thing anyway.
And that's why I've never been a fan of adults.
PICTURED IN PHOTO: VESTAL RUNNINGBACK/LINEBACKER LIAM NEALY — PHOTO BY ANTHONY GOSS
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