The NCAA announced some potential rules changes to college football on Wednesday, and as expected, the reaction to the changes has been mixed.
The rule change making the most headlines is the one that would cause a player called for targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders to be ejected.
The rule would essentially be the same for fighting. A violation in the first half would mean a disqualification for the rest of the game, while one in the second half would disqualify the offending player for the remainder of the game and the first half of the next.
NCAA national coordinator of officials Rogers Redding commented on the potential change to NCAA.org:
The general consensus is that the officials on the field make this call properly the vast majority of the time and know what the committee is looking for with this foul. This move is being made to directly change player behavior and impact player safety.
In theory, it's a good rule. Head injuries are incredibly serious, and football needs to do all that it can to prevent players from concussions and other potentially serious injures.
The problem though is that the NCAA needs to clearly define the definitions of "targeting" and "defenseless," because getting it right the vast majority of the time isn't good enough when we're talking about players being ejected.
The ejection portion of the penalty is subject to video replay rules in the same manner that possessions, turnovers and other in-game reviews are handled.
That's a nice—and necessary—fallback, but "targeting" is still an incredibly subjective penalty.
For instance, is the hit below worthy of an ejection?
Sure, Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal lit up South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham, to the point where Cunningham's helmet popped off. But if you look at the replay, it looks like Hal leads with his shoulder and "targets' Cunningham's shoulders, not an area above the shoulders.
Would Hal have been ejected under the new rules?
How about the one former South Carolina defensive back D.J. Swearinger had in the UAB game last season?
The SEC had an interesting statement when comparing the hit above to the one that cost Swearinger a game in 2012.
On replay, although contact was made to the [South Carolina] receiver’s helmet, the primary contact from the Vanderbilt defender was to the shoulder area. The Vanderbilt defender never lowers his head and the contact is made with his facemask up looking at the South Carolina receiver. It was a foul because there was glancing contact to the receiver’s helmet.
In the UAB contest, based on video replays, the contact was initiated by a slight launch of the defender into the receiver and the primary contact was targeted directly into the receiver’s facemask.
Makes sense, but would Swearinger have been ejected and Hal allowed to stay under the proposed new rule?
Now, we can debate whether this should be a penalty. Critics will certainly say that "soon they'll be playing two-hand touch." That's not really the issue though.
If the NCAA is going to seriously consider ejections for targeting penalties, it needs to be crystal clear—I'm talking Caribbean Sea clear—on what's allowed and what's not.
After all, the difference between a 15-yard penalty and losing a player is about the size of the Grand Canyon.