red football helmet on the grass

What to do When a Helmet Comes Off

We had an interesting situation in a game. Opposing players went to the ground and as they stood up, one player inadvertently (no foul) dislodged the other player’s helmet and it came off.

Rule 3-5-10d states

“…the player shall be replaced for at least one down…when the helmet comes completely off during the down or subsequent dead-ball action related to the down without being directly attributable to a foul by an opponent.”

The crew decided the helmet did not come off during the down (or subsequent dead-ball action) and was not directly attributable to a foul, so they allowed the player to remain in the game.

Rule Interpretation

I spoke with the Colorado state rules interpreter and he stated players are responsible for properly securing their helmets. He reasoned the player must not have properly secured his helmet prior to the play, so the “subsequent dead-ball period” would apply to this situation.

I responded we could not tell if the helmet was loosened during the play (similar to a mouthpiece coming out or a chin strap attachment point coming off while the ball is live) and then the inadvertent action by the opponent caused the helmet to come off.

Let’s review a few precepts related to the helmet coming off:

In NFHS rules, players are allowed to remove their helmets on the field without penalty.

“Directly attributable” means the opponent’s foul must be helmet-related (e.g., blow to the head, illegal use of hands to the facemask, facemask foul). For example, if A55 illegally blocks B70 below the waist and he hits the ground and his helmet comes off, the “directly attributable” provision does not apply (B70 will have to leave the field for at least one play). Conversely, if B70 slaps A55’s helmet and it comes off as A55 hits the ground, A55 may remain in the game. Similarly, if B70 grasps A10’s facemask and A10 runs 5 more yards, is tackled and his helmet comes off, A10 may remain in the game.

If a runner loses his helmet, the ball is dead (4-2-2k). Sound the whistle and mentally (or with a beanbag) mark the spot where the ball became dead by rule.

If a player’s helmet comes off, when the ball is dead by rule the crew must sound their whistles and stop the clock. If the player must be excused for at least one play, the wing should inform the coaching staff and the R must wait until the player is replaced before sounding the RFP. Sometimes the coaches will not know they have lost a player.

It is illegal participation for a player whose helmet comes completely off during a down to continue to participate beyond the immediate action in which the player is engaged (9-6-4g). For example, if A66’s helmet comes off while he is blocking B55, he can continue to block B55 without a helmet. However, he cannot disengage and then reengage B55 or initiate a block on another opponent.

In this video, the slot receiver’s helmet comes off while he is blocking. He continues to block his opponent (does not disengage), so his continued participation is not a foul. Following the end of the play, the crew must stop the clock and the player must leave the field.

It is illegal personal contact for a player to initiate contact with an opposing player whose helmet has come completely off (9-4-3l). It’s interesting to note, we could have offsetting fouls if B70’s helmet comes off, he pursues runner A15 down the field (illegal participation), and A65 initiates contact with B70 (illegal personal contact).

If repair of the helmet will take more than 25 seconds (typically because a chin strap attachment point will not properly secure), send the player off. Do not delay the game to fix the problem (3-5-2b). It’s permissible for a team to call a timeout to repair equipment.