Proposed targeting tweak a good start for flawed rule

Proposed targeting tweak a good start for flawed rule
February 12, 2014, 5:00 pm
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JJ Stankevitz

The NCAA Football Rules Committee has come to its senses with a proposed change to targeting enforcement, but it may not be enough to satisfy coaches frustrated by the rule last year.

Enforcement of targeting in 2013 was largely illogical: If a foul was issued to a player, his ejection from the game could be reviewed. If a replay official determined the player did not commit a targeting foul (generally speaking, defined by leading with the crown of the helmet or targeting the head of a defenseless player), he would be allowed to remain in the game, though the 15-yard penalty assessed along with the ejection remained.

In short: A player could be ruled to not have committed a foul, yet part of the penalty from the foul remained.

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The rules committee's proposal would eliminate that logical fallacy, as if replay shows a player did not commit a targeting foul both his ejection and the 15-yard penalty would not be enforced.

"Overall, the targeting rule was successful and has had the intended impact of making play safer," Troy Calhoun, head coach at Air Force and chair of the committee, said. "This alteration keeps the intent of the rule, but allows replay to correct all of the consequences from a rare missed call."

The rule is certainly a step in the right direction for player safety, though it remains flawed. That's because there's a large gray area in calling, reviewing and upholding a targeting foul, as seen by a penalty called against Stephon Tuitt in Notre Dame's 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh last November.

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"When a 320-pound inside player is running from the hash to the numbers at full speed and try to make a play, and he gets thrown out of the game, I don't think that's what the rule is intended for," Kelly said a few days after the game. "Clearly we're going to have to look at the rule in greater detail after the season because we don't wanna take that out of the game, we don't wanna take that effort out of the game.

"... I'm for player safety, I'm for making sure that in this game of football that we do everything to protect the integrity of the game. We don't have it right yet, we need to get it right, hopefully we'll be able to get it right."

The rules committee's proposal is a step toward getting it right. But getting it completely right will be difficult, if not impossible, given intent is difficult to determine and the continuing emphasis on preventing head injuries in football.

And that means more of those frustrating moments for college coaches, Kelly included.