What’s the deal with Georgia players no longer wearing knee pads?

Georgia football-UGA football-Terry Godwin
You'll note in this photo of receiver Terry Godwin from the Mississippi State game last season that his knees are not protected by pads, nor covered by pants. That is supposed to change via NCAA rule in 2018.

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I’ve noticed that a lot of football players these days do not have pads covering their knees. They almost look like they are wearing Bermuda shorts. Has there been a rule change or simply lack of enforcement? With player safety a big concern these days, I’m surprised by this trend.

 Glenn Cox, Newnan

What an interesting question, Glenn! It’s actually something I had wondered about myself but never thought to ask. Even though this is not necessarily a UGA-specific question, we aim to please with answers here at DawgNation. So I sought some.

As it turns out, your question is very timely. The protection of the knee cap is a matter that is going to be directly addressed by the NCAA this season. In a memo sent on Jan. 3, football rules committee secretary Steve Shaw informed conference commissioners, football coaches and coordinators of officials that Rule 1-4-4-d, which requires that all players wear knee pads, is going to be “vigorously” enforced in 2018.

First, a little background. That rule has been in place, well, forever. And, believe it or not, it is being adhered to even by today’s athletes. If you look closely, you’ll note that the players who wear football pants that don’t cover their knees technically are wearing knee pads. They’re there. They’re just tiny and do not come anywhere close to covering the knee. Thus, they’re abiding by the rule.

But that’s where the rule will be applied differently this season. Shaw expressly emphasizes (in bold print, no less) that, starting in 2018, the pants and knee pads “must cover the knees.”

He continues:

“The committee reminds conferences and member institutions of the importance for taking responsibility to ensure that student-athletes are properly equipped for each game. Coaches must see to it that players are wearing equipment as prescribed by the rules. It is especially noticeable when players are not wearing regulation knee pads, tailbone protectors, or pants that come to at least the knees. The wearing of shorts rather than pants is not acceptable. Conferences and their coordinators of officials have front-line responsibility for ensuring that the rules are vigorously enforced.”

Shaw’s full-time job is as the SEC’s coordinator of officials, so one can be sure that the newly applied rule will be enforced in his conference. And it will affect a number of players, particularly those who play the skill positions. Wide receivers and defensive backs, especially, have gone higher and higher up their legs with their britches, to the point that the material doesn’t come close to covering the knee pad. They say it gives them more freedom of movement and doesn’t restrict their speed.

Some of the Bulldogs’ best players concur. Go back and look at photos of Georgia’s receivers and defensive backs from last season — such as Terry Godwin above — and you’ll see that they definitely were adhering to the high-pants trend. Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel seemed closer to being in compliance, though D’Andre Swift wore his slightly higher.

Some believe Kentucky’s Stanley “Boom” Williams started the high-pants trend in the SEC. (File)

I reached out to Georgia’s director of equipment, John Meshad, to find out how the Bulldogs plan on addressing this. Before, he said, players chose the size and length of pants they wore from a variety of sizes based on their level of personal comfort. They’ll probably still be able to make personal choices, but Georgia will have to take steps to ensure that they’re in compliance.

How strictly the rule will be enforced in games remains to be seen.

“It’s going to be difficult because they’d relaxed it so much in recent years,” Meshad said. “We’ll see, I guess.”

An interesting aside here: Nobody seems to be sure where this trend began, but at least a few folks seem to think Kentucky’s Stanley “Boom” Williams brought it into the SEC. The running back who gained more than 2,500 yards for the Wildcats from 2014-16 wore his pants almost halfway up his thigh. Williams hails from Monroe, Ga., by the way.

That will not fly this season. When, where and how the rule gets enforced during games will be of particular interest. For that reason, I guess we’ll all need to pay more attention to hemlines this season.

Thanks for the interesting question.

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