Rule proposal about runner initiating contact creates controversy

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is tackled by Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu (96), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) and others during the second half of Super Bowl XLVII. (Feb. 3, 2013) (Credit: AP)

PHOENIX - The latest measure designed to ease concussions in football is giving the NFL a headache.

A proposed rule to prohibit ballcarriers from initiating contact with the crown of their helmet received strong pushback in discussions among owners, general managers and coaches Tuesday and might not be formally voted on at the league meetings this week.

According to a league source, had a vote been taken Tuesday morning regarding the measure, it would have been one vote shy of the 24 needed to adopt it. If the league cannot sway that one vote by the time the meetings adjourn Wednesday, the proposal might be tabled until the owners reconvene in May in Boston.

"There was some pretty spirited debate this morning,'' said Giants president and CEO John Mara, a member of the NFL's competition committee that drafted the proposal. "There will be some more before we vote.''

The primary concern from coaches, players and some owners is the enforcement of the rule.

"How do we go about doing it?'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin asked. "How do we officiate it?''

"One of the things we are going to do is to show a lot more what is legal so we can train officials and not unnecessarily throw a flag," NFL senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron said Monday.

"Most of the contact is legal. We are trying to get that one individual situation where the head is lowered and you can see on the field, you can see a player put his head down and the contact is with the crown and you can see it."

Although contact with the face mask, side of the helmet and "hairline'' area would be allowed, ballcarriers would not be permitted to initiate contact with the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box. Making that distinction in real time could be difficult for the officials, especially when these are -- quite literally -- bang-bang plays.

The league has framed the new rule's proposal as a player safety issue, however, and failing to pass it in a climate of class action lawsuits and awareness of concussions would be embarrassing. That's why the issue might be tabled. The proposal was discussed again in the afternoon session Tuesday without progress.

There are five other rule proposals under consideration this week, and all are expected to pass. The owners voted to adopt two new rules Tuesday that will outlaw peel-back blocks anywhere on the field and prohibit defensive teams from overloading to one side on field goals and extra points. The vote to repeal the tuck rule is expected to take place Wednesday and should pass without much resistance.

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