NCAA Targeting Rule: Right or Wrong?

Starting in the 2013 college football season, a player can be ejected from a game, plus adding a 15-yard penalty at the completion of the play, for targeting.  Is this the right decision or the wrong decision? Its possible it could be a little of both.  I understand the purpose, motivation and the implementation of the rule; for player safety and to decrease, with the increase rise in student-athlete concussions and injuries from targeting.  With the rule in place, this now causes more subjective assessment to the men and women who are in place to regulate and apply those rules to the action on the field. Many athletic directors, coaches and sports writers have stated, “the rule will be tested in the first game and over the course of the first weekend of games”. This is so true.

I examined this rule from an athletic administrators point of view, seeing the whole picture. As an administrator, this means that I must have complete competence in my coaching staff to teach proper tackling techniques and proper reception of a tackle by a player.  In addition to, implementing sportsmanship in a game that possesses historic gamesmanship and now we add SIGNIFICANT amounts of money on the line from sponsors, bowl committees and to compete for the “national championship” of college football in an already flawed and skewed system that determines who should compete for the national championship. There will times during the season that a key player will forget about the “targeting rule” and play football they only way that has been ingrained into their minds, hard, fast and to win. This will cause the player to be ejected from the game that could be tied, one-possession difference, two-possession difference or just out of hand. Coaches will have their patience, attitudes and coaching etiquette put in check and tested, all from this rule.

From the men and women who will be refereeing these highly energized games, conference, non-conference and rivalry games, they are going to make split second decisions on ” not to” or “need to” throw the flag in these situations. Remember they are human, making split second decisions on is this targeting rule and situations, did the offensive player change his head or body position to make it look like a targeted hit and how often will the coaches lobby on the sidelines for those types of calls when the targeted hit is just a hit/tackle. Then we add the increased consciousness of where the game is played, whose fans, national television, sports commentators trying to analyze the hit, because they have 15 different camera angles to watch instant replay over and over to examine a frame by frame hit. The referees might miss some calls or make calls that were not right, but an ejection occurred. In a split second, judgement, subjective call,  the referees need to determine intent of the hit/tackle and if it warrants ejection. We need to support the referees decision, because they are there to govern the rules that they are trained in and to wear those stripes.

The most interesting aspects about the implementation of this rule are three. One, they are implementing a rule that possesses no statistical facts on the number of targeted hits during the course of a specific time period of college football, analysis, research or peer reviewed journal articles that supports the penalty to be enforced to the rules implementation. Two, with the increase of targeted hits and increased concussions with student athletes and professional athletes, the media and coaches needed a rule in place to protect the athletes. I get that, totally understand and respect the need for the rule, but not the implementation. Finally, the onus is on the referees to make the right decision with no experimentation to the rule, during regular season games, this does not include spring practice games when the rule was first implemented. If research, statistical evidence and peer reviewed journal articles are out there to support this stringent penalty to the rule, please let me know. I would enjoy reading it and analyzing it for validity. That means articles written and published by educators in journals that possess accreditation, possess reputation and peer reviewed. An article written by a sports reporter is credible but not valid in the education sector.

I support the rule as a much needed rule, this makes it right. To protect player safety and the sportsmanship of the game. What is wrong with the rule is how the penalty phase is being enforced without statistical evidence to support the penalty of immediate ejection from the game. If we were to add fairness and education to the sport with the student athletes during live action, then we give all opportunity to change their behavior patterns as football players. From what I can assess, with no true statistical information to determine if immediate ejection is needed from a targeted hit, then there needs to be a learning curve as we use the rule for learning on both sides of the ball. As my athletic administrators mind set, analytical thought process and critical thinking skills start to work, I would have suggested a two phase process to the implementation of the rule and the ejection process to the rules committee. I would have suggested to the committee the following:

A. First time a player is called for targeting, automatic 15-minute suspension from the game or into the next game, pending on when the penalty occurs within the time frame of the game. The player can return after serving a mandatory 15-minutes penalty of no play. Coaches should take the players helmet and shoulder pads away for 15-minutes. This will allow the player to cool off, understand that he cannot make targeted hits and offers coaches an opportunity to educate the player(s) on what they did wrong and instruct them in how to correct the actions. This also puts ALL players in the game on notice, that these types of hits will not be tolerated and the referees are doing the right thing.  This also take less pressure off the referee to automatically eject a player for a targeted hit. Make the call for the targeted hit, but educate and coach. The ONLY sub-rule that supercedes Rule A is, if the player that is called for targeting and injury or fatal injury occurs; such as concussion and/or paralysis, then immediate ejection and a 1-game suspension should occur no appeal process.

B. If the same player or the next player initiates a targeted hit, on either team, then automatic suspension/ejection from the remainder of the current game and the next game should be implemented. Student athletes will learn from what the first player did to receive the 15-minute ejection/penalty and mentally take note that they need to focus on working together for the promotion of the game, sport, safety of all players and sportsmanship.

C. Conference commissioners and rules committees should not fall to the lobbying that athletic directors will take into reviewing the call after the game is over. There will be no over-turning of suspensions. The rule is in place, they need to accept it. All the players, coaches and athletic administrators have been educated on the rule, the purpose of the rule and must accept the decisions made by the referees for the just cause of ejection to the rules.

The two phase process is more utilitarianistic versus hedonistic, in which the current rule is now. I am all for player safety and the improvement of the game, but rules such as this that causes the need for split second, judgement and a subjective thought process, is going to create a media frenzy. When Player X is ejected, from Team Y, from Conference Z,  during game A, who are competing for the possibility of a  “national championship”  game, with SIGNIFICANT amounts of money on the line from bowl games, sponsorship and recruits wanting to associate with winning programs, this is where the media frenzy will start and lobby for a change to the rule. The two phase ejection rule, which I would have submitted to the rules committee, would have a better due process, offers players that second chance with the 15-minutes suspension from the game, opportunity to educate the players from the coaches perspective.

Rash, quick decisions and implementation of rules without research to support the need for the penalty phase, will always come back and bite those hard for implementing the rule and ejection process. The rule is the right decision, the implementation of the ejection process is wrong.

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