Here's an article that I ran across in today's Kansas City Star about a rule change regarding spearing - when a player lowers his head and leads with the crown of his helmet while tackling (although offensive players, too, can spear when they lower their head bracing for a tackle) - for the upcoming season.
Georgia’s Reggie Brown made a catch over the middle against Auburn and before he could turn up field, Junior Rosegreen flattened him with a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Brown was lucky: He ended up with only a concussion. Rosegreen was even luckier. The way he led with his head left him vulnerable to a spine injury.
The hit got (University of Georgia athletic trainer Ron) Courson thinking about how rarely he’s seen spearing called in college football. The problem, he found, was in the wording of the rule.
Under the old rule, players could not make spearing hits with intent, but unintentional spearing hits were not to be penalized. From earlier in the article:
The NCAA changed its spearing rule in the offseason to remove any reference to intent. The old rule penalized players who “intentionally” led with their helmets, forcing officials to judge whether a dangerous, high-speed hit was deliberate.
From Yahoo news:
"Intent" has been dropped: The new rule says spearing is the use of the helmet (including the face mask) "to butt or ram an opponent or attempt (emphasis Phil's) to punish him. ... No player shall strike a runner with the crown or the top of his helmet in an attempt to punish him."
...Despite the dangers, spearing seldom was called by game officials because the NCAA rule said the act had to be intentional. Officials were hesitant to interpret "intent" on the field.
I'm not an official and perhaps I simply dabbling with semantics here, but doesn't the word "attempt" imply "intent"?
While spearing can affect both the spearee and the spearer, spearing rules are generally designed to protect players from themselves and, according to this short research paper (choose the read-only option when opening the document), it was the only such rule back in the early 1990's when the paper was written. Offhand, I can't think of another rule in college football with the primary intent of protecting a player from himself and a quick Google search did not help me find another example.
And lastly, is the optimal spearing rate zero? That is, is it desirable to drive the occurrence of spearing to zero?
Here is a more in-depth article on this rule change from the National Athletic Trainers' Association. Here is another Google search with more links.
I have cross-posted this over at Market Power.