Three and Out -- Urban Meyer as didactic exercise

Targeting rule has all of us talking (debating) about player safety

Published: October 24 2013 | 9:26 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:19 pm in

1. On one hand, you're wrong, Urban Meyer -- Last week was the first ejection I've seen in a game under the new targeting rule. From the press box -- watching on replay, obviously -- Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby's hit on Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz looked like a football play. Other than Fiedorowicz, a jumbo-sized 6-7, 265-pound TE, and his mouthpiece staying on the Ohio Stadium turf for more than a few minutes after the hit, it looked like football. You know, tackle football.

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 4 of the 2013 NCAA football rulebook states: "No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder."

So, football was "targeting" and a tackle was a penalty and a penalty was an ejection. That's how this rule works, for the rest of this year, anyway.

"However, that was a game-changer. To take one of your better players out of the game, that impacted that game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. ". . . We teach and work hard at it that you play the game with the shoulder pads and play below the head. I agree 100 percent. But to have a guy ejected who played like that, obviously I'm concerned."

Shhh, shhh, coach Meyer. It's not about what you teach, it's about what the official saw and called and then what was reviewed (remember, all ejection calls go under review).

Around the nation, there have been 52 targeting penalties in FBS games, 15 of which have been overturned. The rule is working. It was  intended to modify player behavior and clarify what players are coached to do. Ejection is enough of a deterrent to get everyone's attention. It's like a hefty fine for a hit in the NFL.

If nothing else, ejection has us talking and thinking player safety. Modifications will come this offseason (my guess would be the 15-yard penalty if an ejection is overturned in review will be dumped), but this is shedding light on a heretofore murky topic.

2. On the other hand, you go, Urban Meyer -- All coaches are going to fight down to the fingernails for their players. And that's what Meyer did this week after Roby's ejection.

Beyond that, Meyer has an even better point. He attacks the whole definition of "targeting" in the handbook. The guide defines "targeting" as taking aim "at an opponent for purposes of attacking with an apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball."

Meyer was angry that officials classified Roby's intent as targeting. That's a fair point. Unless you're an unplugged sociopath out there on the field, you're not trying to do anything beyond bringing the ballcarrier to the ground (formerly known as "tackling").

This is an excellent argument. It points out the painfully misguided subjective nature of intent. A helmet-to-helmet is one thing, and if that's the call, leave it at that. "Attacking with an intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle," how does an official define intent? How does he do that in a split second? I didn't see any interrogation rooms on the field last week.

"The NCAA and everybody is going to want to re-look at that rule," Meyer said. "Ohio State is very concerned about player safety. We have gone to the Nth degree with adjusting practice. Any rule for the safety of players, no question we support it."

No coach will want his player to pause because he's worried about how a hit will play out. Those pauses, in the mind of a coach and in cold reality, are where big plays are made and games are lost. The message will be strong from any coach on the side of his defensive player. Coaches don't want pauses, they want results. That's the reality.

3. Ferentz: The process is the thing -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is as old school as it gets in football. He played linebacker at UConn in the late '70s. He has a gross thumbnail that, I'm guessing, is a product of something football. In the '70s, the insides of helmets were "suspension material," the kind of protection you only see nowadays in hard hats.

Ferentz agrees with the player safety awareness movement (that's probably the right thing to call it, and what coach wouldn't agree, really?). His biggest concerns were in the "bang bang" nature of the calls. This is what makes the video review component such a important key.

In August, every team, Ferentz said, was given a video of what officials would be looking at in regard to targeting. Ferentz thought Saturday's call was fairly clear cut. The video review of the hit in question makes it hard to argue the ejection. And, maybe, if the intent portion were dropped, there would be nothing to argue. (The fact that this is in the debate stage and will be for the foreseeable future really tells me this isn't so much about player safety, but let's play along.)

"It's all about player safety," Ferentz said. "That's why they pushed it. That was the rule of emphasis in August. Every one of us showed that tape to our players in August. It's a bang-bang thing. It's a hard rule to officiate. That's why I think the process, everything I know about it, is the way it should be."

It's kind of like speeding cameras. You don't want the ticket, don't speed. Oh, what a facile comparison that is. We all know there's only one speed in football.


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