I missed much of the Eric Martin controversy on Saturday, as I had turned away from the television when the replays came on, and so I never really saw anything about it until Tuesday night after finding it on YouTube. The replays I've found are rather inconclusive to me as to whether he hit Andrew Hudson in the helmet first or in the shoulder. The replays I see suggest that Martin drove into Hudson's shoulder from the side, and the impact of the blow and the angle of the play led Martin's helmet into Hudson's facemask.
But watching these replays in a split-screen where the focus was on the larger field isn't particularly conclusive. The end zone view wasn't of much help here either. Again, it looks to me like he was making contact with the upper body, but then the angle and ferociousness of the hit led to a whiplash effect on Hudson.
But in the grand scheme of things, whether Martin aimed for the helmet or the shoulder doesn't really matter if you read Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe's news release. You see, Martin wasn't suspended for hitting Hudson's helmet, he was suspended for leading with his helmet.
"Mr. Martin committed a flagrant act of targeting an opponent with the crown of his helmet in violation of NCAA Football Rules," Beebe said in his news release.
That changes the situation a bit, and when you look at the picture, you can see that the helmet is out in front of the rest of his body. So is that what got Martin in trouble? Well, look at the first picture, where Nebraska's Justin Blatchford is leading with his head. Same with several of the players in the second screen snapshot. The natural position of the body is to have the head leading the way in most of these football situations.
And that's the problem with this call. This type of play happens several times a game, but usually the other player isn't blindsided by it. The blindsiding in this situation wasn't Martin's fault. Hudson should have seen him coming, and frankly, should have been expecting contact.
This play reminds me of a similar play two years ago. In the first quarter, Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon launched himself at Joe Ganz, nailing Ganz in the helmet. No flag was called on the play at that time, and frankly, since the rules were changed last season, there probably wasn't any basis to pursue it further at that time. This season? Who knows, but based on the precedent set this week, very likely so. Certainly Nebraska fans will be calling for a flag the rest of the season if there is any indication that an opponent led with his helmet.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, this play wouldn't have been controversial. With more cameras being used in coverage of games (and in HD), you now see even more of the game than you ever had before. Would Ed Cunningham even have seen this play during a college football broadcast back then? Even so, without YouTube and home DVR's, most of us wouldn't be able to give this play a second look unless we had hooked up our VCR.
Now with all of this technology, we now have a way to dig into football like we've never before. Remember last year's Virginia Tech game, when Matt O'Hanlon let Danny Coale catch an 81 yard pass, setting up the game-changing touchdown. Without technology, fans wouldn't have had a chance to see what caused O'Hanlon to make that mistake; namely, three receivers breaking deep with only two safeties deep.
That little bit of indecision in trying to decide whether to cover tight end Greg Boone gave Coale all the room he needed to break into the clear. But it's something that would have only be seen on coaches film in the past.
That's little comfort to Eric Martin, who will have to watch the Missouri game in street clothes, or his teammates. It's even less comfort to Andrew Hudson, who's still recovering from the effects of this play.
This is the first post in a series about the intersection of sports and technology, sponsored by Samsung.