Just before Christmas, I published an article about Rule #10 from the IFA's 1876 rule book. The article described how tacklers were initially limited to grabbing the ball carrier's torso, only later being allowed to grab other body parts, excluding the head.
Fifty-plus years after tackling below the waist became legal in 1903, a series of rules began restricting more dangerous elements of the tackling process, one of which was to outlaw face masking in 1957.
Another dangerous tackling process, spearing, came to the public's attention in the early 1960s after the Armour Institute of the Illinois Institute of Technology published the results of a study investigating football helmets and their relationship to head and neck injuries. Most football insiders believed spearing began because plastic helmets and face masks offered significant protection to tacklers that they became willing to use their heads as weapons. In addition, many coaches taught spearing and hitting with the face mask.
As Fritz Crisler, Michigan's athletic director and football rules committee member noted, the NCAA approached the problem by setting minimum equipment standards. Where those standards did not provide sufficient protection, they wrote new rules to eliminate dangerous forms of tackling.
Additional studies over the next decade showed consistent results and brought increased attention to the need for head-up tackling. Still, it was not until 1976 that the NCAA outlawed spearing, making it subject to a 15-yard penalty. Spearing was treated as a personal foul until 2009, when targeting became a separate penalty, with the offender subject to being suspended for one game. Additional changes and revisions to the rule have occurred since then.
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