College targeting penalties will be handled differently this season

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014

File/David Goldman/AP College football officials will handle penalties for targeting defenseless players differently this year.

One of the more irritating college football rules has been changed for the better.

The targeting rule that caused so much controversy last year has been tweaked, according to a press release issued by the National Football Foundation last week.

The N.C.A.A. targeting rule was established with the best intentions, to protect players’ safety and reduce head injuries. For years college receivers going up to catch a pass were open targets and defensive players took full advantage by laying vicious hits on them, so the consensus among medical professionals, coaches, fans and even players was that making it illegal to target defenseless players above the shoulders or lead into them with the crown of a helmet was a good idea.

However, the N.C.A.A. decision that officials could overturn the mandatory ejection of a player flagged for targeting based on video review but not overturn the 15-yard penalty itself caused frustration for football fans and coaches alike.

Beginning last season, video review for targeting penalties was mandatory in college football, so time and time again fans watched as officials determined a hit wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. Often video review provided evidence hits weren’t malicious or sometimes even that hits were made below the shoulders and therefore legal – yet teams were still penalized 15 yards.

However, officials have changed the manner in which targeting calls will be handled. This season, if a video review shows conclusively there was no forcible contact to the head and neck area or with the crown of the helmet then the 15-yard penalty will also be lifted as long as there is not another personal foul in combination with the targeting call.

Examples of combination personal fouls include roughing the passer and kick or catch interference. In cases where such fouls are accompanied by a targeting call, the 15-yard penalty will still be enforced, even if the player’s ejection is overturned. The National Football Foundation partnered with Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of College Football Officiating, in its recent efforts to generate awareness for the rule changes in college football.

He indicates the change to the targeting rule will not hinder efforts to make player safety a priority.

“We want to protect the game and to help reduce critical injuries with this message: play the game hard but stay away from serious fouls,” Redding said. “By making changes, we are signaling that the safety of the student-athlete stands at the very top of our list of priorities. The clear intent is to change player behavior.”

In 2014, targeting penalties called during games where instant replay is not used can be reviewed at halftime if video is available at the game site and if the football conference the teams belong to has a video review policy in place. For interconference games, the teams will have to reach a pregame agreement regarding video review.

Two other key rule changes addressed in last week’s press release involve low hits on a passer and game jerseys.

This season the defense is not allowed to make forcible contact at the knee or below to an opponent who is in a passing posture. The extension of the roughing the passer rule is designed to eliminate knee injuries on plays where the defensive player forcibly drives a shoulder, helmet or forearm into the lower leg of the passer. According to the foundation, it is not intended to prevent the defense from making a legitimate wrap-up tackle in which the contact is at or below the knee.

Beginning this year, officials will handle teams wearing improper uniforms differently. If a team’s numbers do not clearly contrast with its jerseys the referee will ask the team to change into legal jerseys before the game begins. If the team does not change, it will be charged with a timeout. The same opportunity will be offered during the time between the first and second quarters, at halftime and at the beginning of the fourth quarter. This means a team could potentially burn four of its allotted six timeouts for the game because of illegal jerseys.

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