Big Ten officials discuss new “targeting” rule and it’s as bad as you think

In mid-June the NCAA adopted a standard rule that any blow targeting a player above the shoulders (a.k.a. contact to the head) by any player would come with an automatic ejection from the game. This has been confirmed today at the annual meeting of Big Ten officials where some in the media are also in attendance. 

The actual language of the rule is that any player who is flagged for targeting and contacting a "defenseless" player above the shoulders will not only be flagged for a 15 yard penalty but will be automatically ejected. 

Before a general freak out happens, the plus side is that these penalties are subject to official review and can be reversed. However, that means officials are now going to be asked to subscribe intent to contact – something they simply can not determine on the field of play. At least that is supposed to be the failsafe in this situations….

According to multiple published reports Big Ten officials (and most others as well) will be instructed to error on the side of caution and throw the flag on every occasion. Last season 99 players were flagged for this penalty and would've been subjected to this penalty. 

Addtionally, any player ejected in the 2nd half of the game must miss the 1st half of the next game as well. 

It's all well and good that you want to protect players from potentially dangerous injury and all, but what about the law of unintended consequences? You are asking officials to call a penalty that ascribes intent to a player in an instant and then asking replay officials to ascribe intent or not as well. How exactly do you know what was in the mind of a player or not…. What parameters are you using?

What about a play like this from the Big Ten Championship game last season?

It was ruled an illegal hit to the head of a defenseless player and called "unsportsmanlike conduct" as well. How does an official rule it this season? Kenny Bell would've likely been ejected from the game and his ability to play the rest of the game and the first half of the next game would depend on a replay official alone. Unless of course a jury of one replay official decided his intent was to make sure the player chasing his teammate just a few feet away couldn't chase him down any further by making a great block. Then again, will the official protect his buddies or make the right call? 

Officials have a tough job as it is and it's an unenvious job to say the least, but now the NCAA is going to ask them to dive even further into a grey area and ascribe intent to a hit? Most of these type of plays are bang-bang moments. What about players in the defensive backfield who are going to hit a player in the air and the receiver ducks his head, thus causing contact above the shoulders….. Is that "targeting" a player? 

You are asking an official on the field to make that kind of a call in less than a second and it's unfair to those that are playing the game the way they are all taught to – HARD – and it's unfair to the officials as well. However, it appears that the advice to officials will be to not worry about getting the call right or wrong or who they are potentially ejecting, but to make the call if there is any question at all.

"We want officials to know if they get a little too anxious and they're wrong and throw the starting linebacker out of the game, we'll support them and we have replay to confirm," Carollo said in this article. "If we really do care about these players 10 to 15 years from now, we have to change the rule. That's a big price to pay, but we're willing to take that risk."

If the intention is to take "violence" out of football then maybe you should find a different sport to play, watch, or officiate. Perhaps cricket or squash or bochi ball may be more your speed (nothing wrong with those sports, just a few suggestions). But, then again, the NCAA and the officials are just looking out for the best interests of the future of the players who don't know any better, right?

One thing we could all agree on is that there has been a sick culture in football about celebrating these "massive" hits while the opponent lays on the ground with a potentially serious injury. If that's what this rule is about… You know, changing the culture…. that's something we can and should get behind. However, it appears that this is more about finding a way to make the game less "violent" than actually changing the mindset of players who will celebrate anything these days. 

Is the NCAA really suggesting that a player, who also needs to make a split second decision, pull up and not make a hit because they may be ejected? You know, because a player doesn't have enough to think about in terms of just the normal course of play – now you're asking them to make a decision about physics, speed, and weight distribution in a split second? 

Maybe for next season the NCAA should pass a requirement that all football players must take an advanced physics course in order to play football… you know, so they can make that split second decision about trajectory, angles, speed, and weight distribution. Just think about it….. Player X is traveling at 15mph and goes up 30 inches off the ground at an angle of 38 degrees to catch the ball and he is 6 foot 3 inches tall as well. What distance, angle, and speed does defender Y need to be at in order to avoid hitting him in the head and still be able to dislodge the ball from his hands or tackle him to the ground without also undercutting him because that is also a penalty?

Yes, it's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's also exactly what this rule is trying to get players to do.

Here's the truth that the NCAA is trying to avoid for some reason – FOOTBALL IS A VIOLENT GAME AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE. If you think for one second that a player, playing at this level of the game doesn't know the consequences of what he does and doesn't do on the football field you're living in an alternate reality. Trying to legislate the intentions or non-intentions of players in a split second situation is just a leap too far for this writer.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, as well as Publisher of Big Ten site