Yesterday, the NCAA Football Rules Committee decided to get tough against above-the-shoulder hits on defenseless players. In a unanimous vote, the committee chose to increase the penalty for “targeting” to make it a 15-yard penalty with an automatic ejection of the offending player.
On March 6th, this proposal will be given a final thumbs-up or thumbs-down by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong the rules committee’s decision. Most sane people want players to be protected as best as possible. And while a big hit might make the ancient Roman in all of us cheer, the idea of seeing a player carted off the field upsets the stomachs of most rationale fans. This writer was in Ohio Stadium in 2000 when Adam Taliaferro was dealt a career-ending spinal cord injury. Thankfully, after months of rehab, Taliaferro began to walk again. Waiting for the emergency responders to slowly clear a motionless player from the field is something that tends to stick with you.
So if the NCAA wants to protect players, fine. Unfortunately, the way they’re going about it will only give on-field officials’ yet another judgement call that they do not want.
A better solution would be to shelve the ejection part of the penalty and instead better define what is and what isn’t an illegal hit. That way coaches could better teach their players what not to do during games. (At least the NCAA has proposed a video review take place before a player is actually booted from a game.)
Take, for example, the helmet-to-helmet hit. Currently, if a defensive back’s helmet collides with a defenseless receiver’s helmet it’s supposed to be a penalty. But officials often are left to debate whether or not the receiver turned his head into the defender, whether the blow was direct or glancing, whether the defender used the crown of his helmet, etc. Scrap all that. Just outlaw all above-the-shoulders hits on defenseless players. After all, if a player leads with his helmet it’s a dangerous act whether the receiver happens to turn his head one way or another. So teach players not to launch themselves into above-the-shoulder hits.
The NCAA also needs to do a better job of explaining just what constitutes a defenseless player. Typically, it’s receivers and returners in the act of catching a pass or punt. If that’s the limit, define it as such. If a quarterback looking the wrong way after an interception is always to be considered a defenseless player, add that to the definition.
Trying to protect players — even if it takes away one or two excitingly violent hits per game — is the right thing to do. But better defining an illegal hit and a defenseless player would make things easier on players, coaches, and officials. Adding the possibility of ejection into the mix just muddies the water. The NCAA should focus more on the act before increasing the punishment.
This was not, however, the only rule change proposed by the rules committee and awaiting approval by the oversight panel. The other suggested changes are:
1. To add a 10-second runoff with less than a minute remaining in either half when the sole reason for the clock to stop is an injury. (Not a fan of this one. Rarely do you see players fake injuries to stop the clock. This would penalize teams who through sheer misfortune have a player truly injured in the final minute of play. An unnecessary change.)
2. To establish three seconds as the minimum amount of time required to be on the game clock in order to spike the ball to stop the clock. If one or two seconds remain on the clock, there is only time for the offense to run one more play. (Another wholly unnecessary change. This would add more confusion to the already confusing final seconds of play. It doesn’t take one or two seconds to snap a football. Why randomly create a three-second rule? It’s one thing for officials to watch the clock as it ticks to zero. There’s no need to make them worry over it clicking down to :03. A rule change for the sake of making a rule change.)
3. To require a player that changes numbers during the game to report this to the referee, who will announce this. (Lane Kiffin Rule 1A. No more switching jerseys on extra point tries to confuse the enemy. No problem with this change.)
4. To only allow one player number to be worn by the same team and participate at the same position (e.g., two quarterbacks on the same team are not allowed to have the same number). (This one doesn’t really appear necessary as there are 99 numbers to choose from and only 85 players on scholarship. If a team uses more than 14 walkons during a game, then this should be a worry.)
5. To require teams to have either their jersey or pants contrast in color to the playing field. (Uh-oh. Boise State and Eastern Washington fans won’t like this. But yours truly does. No more headaches while watching a BSU home game. Hurrah!)
6. To allow the use of electronic communication by the on-field officiating crew after successful experimentation by the Southeastern Conference. This is not a required piece of equipment but will allow officiating crews to use this tool. (Hey, if it makes the work of officials easier, go for it.)
7. To allow the Big 12 Conference to experiment with using an eighth official on the field in conference games. This official would be placed in the backfield opposite the referee. (If it improves officiating, again, go for it.)
8. To allow instant replay to adjust the clock at the end of each quarter. Previously this provision was only in place for the end of each half. (Fine. This could add two more short delays to games, but if it means the difference between a team kicking a key third-quarter field goal against the wind or with it, might as well be accurate.)