The NFL is sticking by its controversial helmet-hitting rule. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

The NFL stood by its controversial helmet-hitting rule Wednesday, saying after members of the competition committee spoke via conference call that the rule would be kept as is.

The NFL did clarify that “inadvertent or incidental contact” made by a player on a hit should not result in a penalty under the rule.

“The committee resolved that there will be no changes to the rule as approved by clubs this spring, which includes no additional use of instant replay,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said in a written statement released by the league. “The committee also determined that inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or face mask is not a foul.”

The rule, ratified by owners in May, makes it a 15-yard penalty for a player to lower his head and use his helmet to deliver a hit on an opponent. A player is subject to a possible ejection, reviewable by replay, and to a potential fine or suspension by the league for an egregious violation.

There have been 51 penalties assessed under the new rule through 33 preseason games.

Some players and fans have been highly critical of the rule, saying that it is difficult to officiate properly and puts an unreasonable burden on players to avoid such contact. But the NFL says the rule is an important and necessary player-safety provision.

“As all adjust to the new rule, we will continue to provide video feedback and examples of fouls and incorrect calls to coaches, players and officials over the next two weeks and throughout the season as this new rule is implemented,” Vincent said in the statement.

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