This season will be filled with tears for Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC fans. But they will not be tears of joy.
The new penalties for targeting a defenseless player will be enforced in the 2013 season. They will confuse many fans. They will also hurt teams who have aggressive defenses. Games will be lost as a result of these new rules. Count on that.
A player will be ejected from the game if he targets a defenseless player or hits him with the crown of his helmet. A 15-yard penalty will also be enforced. Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson explained at Big 12 Media Days some of the criteria that determines whether a targeting foul has been committed. From ESPN:
There are four types of plays that are probably going to encompass about 98 percent of the targeting actions you're going to see on the field, and that's what we're going to focus on with officials.
Anderson said four main high-risk actions likely will result in targeting penalties:
• Launch: When a player leaves his feet.
• Thrust: When a player hits upward with his helmet.
• Strike: Striking the head and neck area and crown of the helmet.
• Leading: Leading with the top of the helmet.
What makes these new rules different from other personal fouls is two-fold. The play in question will be reviewed. Judgement calls such as pass interference or holding have not been reviewed in the past by officials. Targeting is the first personal foul to be reviewable.
If replays do not show definitive proof that the call was made in error, the ejection will stand. If the call is overturned, the ejection will be reversed but the 15-yard penalty will still be enforced.
High-profile players like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney may be looking at some ejections. Clowney's hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl was the hit of the year.
FOX Sports officiating analyst Mike Pereira told reporters at Big 12 Media Days this week that Clowney would have been ejected if the new rules had been in effect last season. From CBS Sports:
If I'm an official, based on 'when in doubt,' he's out. He's ejected. And when that goes to replay there's no way they overturn it. There's a great potential that hit causes an ejection this year.
South Carolina is one of many teams with an aggressive style of defense. Teams that have a higher-than-average amount of penalties called on them may also be looking at a higher number of ejections.
UCLA was the most penalized team in the country last year. The Bruins were the only FBS team to rack up more than 1,000 penalty yards in one season. With averages of 9.2 penalty yards per foul and 90.9 penalty yards per game, UCLA looks like a team that may suffer serious consequences as a result of these new targeting rules. In the Bruins' game against Arizona, a total of seven personal fouls were called on the two teams.
Three other Pac-12 teams are among the ten most penalized teams in the country: Oregon, Washington and Cal. Discipline will surely be preached by the respective head coaches. Ejections will still occur.
The SEC may suffer some unexpected losses.
Florida is among the 15-most penalized FBS teams averaging 68.8 penalty yards per game. Defending 2012 BCS Champion Alabama also is put on notice. Head coach Nick Saban preaches and enforces discipline but he should still be a little worried.
In last year's SEC Championship game, Alabama defensive tackle Quentin Dial flattened Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Dial launched and made contact with Murray's helmet. Under the new rules, Dial would have been ejected.
Murray is a big fan of the new targeting rule, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I can speak for all quarterbacks and say that I’m very happy for the new rule,” Murray said with a laugh at SEC Media Days last week.
Two Big 12 teams may also want to tap the brakes on making big hits. TCU is ranked No. 101 in penalties while Texas Tech is ranked 121. That puts two Big 12 teams among the top-25 most penalized FBS teams.
TCU defensive end Devonte Fields is a true sophomore. The Associated Press named him the league's 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Newcomer of the Year. Fields is an aggressive pass rusher.
If officials are looking for players' eyes looking down at the field—that would constitute leading with a helmet—would Fields have been ejected at least once last year? In TCU's game against Texas Tech, there was a possible targeting foul (at the 00:55 mark) by Fields when he sacked the quarterback.
It's an iffy foul. His helmet appeared to be lowered. One official may call this targeting, another may not. Fields would have been ejected from the game if he had been flagged for targeting because there was not enough video proof to reverse the call.
TCU opens the season against LSU at Cowboys Stadium on August 31. The two teams play an aggressive style of defense. This game could see the first ejection of the season.
All fans want football players to play aggressive. They also want players to be protected by cheap shots. What can the NCAA do to make sure the penalty for targeting is strict, but fair?
There should be definitive proof that the foul existed for an ejection to be enforced. The guilty-until-proven-otherwise stance by the NCAA should not surprise football fans. But a player relying on irrefutable proof by an alert cameraman with a great angle may cost teams a game.
Given the nature of human error by officials on judgement calls, this season will—not could—be rife with controversy. The officials will be looking for intent by the fouling player. If a ball carrier lowers his head before being hit and there is helmet-to-helmet contact, targeting should not be called under the new rules. But that too is a judgement call.
A ball carrier lowering his head one or two seconds before contact by a defender's crown should not elicit a flag. But what about a bang-bang play where both players lower their heads at less than a second before contact is made?
Officials are going to have to discuss reflex time. What is the amount of elapsed time before an official decides the player had intent? If a defender leads with his helmet but the ball carrier lowers his head at the last second, did the defender have intent to target?
These are the debates that college football fans will be angrily discussing. One team is going to get the shaft. Another will be the beneficiary of a gift, especially if its opponent loses a player like Clowney or Fields.
Georgia safety Shawn Williams went on a rant last October calling his defensive teammates "too soft," according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.
2013 may see a lot less smack and a lot more anguish for college football fans.