College football’s new targeting rule isn’t actually new. It’s been on the books since 2009. But for 2013, the punishment changed dramatically.
Instead of receiving only a 15-yard penalty, the offending player now can also be ejected from the game. If the penalty occurs in the second half, a player is suspended from the first half of the following game.
It has changed college football. It may save football in this country.
When the news about the punishment change this summer, the response was just as hyperbolic.
would’ve drawn a flag and an ejection.
The rule was in place. There was no flag.
Facts, of course, can sometimes get in the way of a good story. For weeks, college football bloggers and writers pontificated on how the rule was going to cause trouble. How it was going to further change the game of football from what it was to what it shouldn’t be – and this is where you throw in the derogatory, “not soccer!” reference.
Even more pointed, there was concern that the rule change was going to severely impact a crucial game and that fans would be up in arms. The aforementioned Clowney scenario was replayed for readers. What if Clowney is ejected for a clean hit? What if South Carolina loses a game because of it? What if? What if? What if?
I was watching the Toledo/Missouri game during a commercial Saturday in the South Carolina/Georgia game. Missouri senior LB Andrew Wilson, a co-captain, was ejected in the second half of the game on what initially appeared to be a clean tackle. The crowd, predictably, booed. Then they showed the replay (they did on TV, no idea about in the stadium). Wilson launched himself in the air and led with his forearm to the head of a Toledo receiver who was defenseless. It was exactly the type of play that needs to be weeded out from football. It was the rule enacted to perfection.
On Sunday night, Giants CB Prince Amukamara launched himself like an absolute idiot – head-down like a missile – trying to tackle a Cowboys receiver. The receiver ducked and he smashed into teammate Ryan Mundy and gave himself a concussion. There was no penalty on the play because you’re allowed to hit your teammate in the head with your helmet. It is the type of boneheaded play the NFL has tried, unsuccessfully, to weed out with fines and suspensions after the fact.
The difference in the penalty is all you need to know in why it’s working on the college level and not on the pro level.
As I watched college football over the first few weeks, it seemed almost jarring to see so many form tackles, like the one Clowney used to dislodge the Michigan running back from the ball but not his consciousness. Form tackling in football is tough, but it is not violent. It is not meant to maim the opponent, merely bring him to the ground. It can look violent. It does not send people to the hospital.
Two weeks, granted, is a small sample size but referees were actually calling less targeting penalties – 1 in every 12 games in 2013 compared to 1 in 8 in 2012 – than last year. Why? Because the players got the message. They just want to play. The previous penalty of merely 15-yards was not a deterrent. And why would it be? A big hit may injure an opponent, take a guy out of the game. Now? You’re taking yourself out of the game.
By the time these players get to the pros with bad habits, it’s too late. How do you tell a guy who has always led with his helmet to stop? In his mind – rightly or wrongly – he knows that he’s a multi-millionaire based on how he’s always played. A fine from Roger Goodell of any amount isn’t going to change that. He will merely rebel against the system and wax poetically about the death of football while ignoring the $765 million the NFL is now paying to a bunch of players who can’t remember their last meal.
The NCAA has done little, if anything, right in the past few years. This rule change, however, is a shining beacon of light across a wasteland of crapulence. They are actually putting the health and well-being of the student-athlete first. They are showing a commitment to the players that are making their institutions of higher learning and cable companies so much money.
For the first time since the concussion debate started chugging along, we have reached a moment of change. It is the tipping point.
Ask any college football fan if their experience with the game has been lessened because of the rule. Ask them if Notre Dame/Michigan somehow meant less because they wouldn’t see a guy get knocked unconscious in mid-air by a helmet-to-helmet hit. Ask if football felt less real, less aggressive, less violent over the first two weeks.
The most important benefit to the rule change, though, will not be felt this weekend or this year. It will be felt in 2015. And 2017. And 2019. Because today’s college stars are tomorrow’s professionals. This rule change is going to do what the NFL cannot do – through no fault of its own – and that is to make the game safer.
It is impossible to eliminate injuries from football, or any athletic contest. But you can eliminate the stupidity of purposely causing injuries. That was the helmet-to-helmet hit. That the culture of idiocy that led to defensive players attacking opponent’s head and the rise in concussions.
The targeting rule in college football is an important first step to ridding the game of one of its ugly aspects.
Instead of considering what if the rule causes a player to be ejecting, we should be asking what if the rule wasn’t in place.
Instead of criticizing the NCAA at every opportunity – and Lord knows I’m guilty of that – we need to applaud the organization. They are making football safer. They are making football better.
Now about this paying players thing…
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