Speaking at Big 12 Media Days, Conference coordinator of officials Walt Anderson did a good job of explaining the theory behind the new targeting rules, which are designed to reduce the amount of contact to the head and prevent injuries. However, much of the decision as to whether or not a play is flagged still appears to come down to intent, which is almost impossible to determine in the heat of action.
In his remarks, Anderson listed four items -- Launch, Thrust, Strike and Crown – that are “indicators” of targeting. Launch involves leaving the ground and jumping forward, while Thrust is the same motion without leaving the ground, involving an upward hitting motion. Strike is hitting the helmet of the opponent with the helmet, shoulder or arm, while Crown is using the top of the helmet as a weapon in the hitting process.
All of this seems rather straightforward, as it gives officials a set of actions to watch for that can result in a penalty. However, it's complicated by the “position change” factor of offensive players, which can turn what looks like an innocent hit into a potential penalty. Anderson acknowledged that a position change by the offensive player can result in helmet to helmet or other neck and helmet contact, and that such an action should not result in a penalty. However, making such a judgment will also put more pressure on officials, who must not only determine the presence of an illegal act, but then judge if the offensive player changed positions to make that action occur.
To combat that, Anderson said that officials are being encouraged to pool their resources and views, and to share their information with each other when targeting calls are made, and to overrule flags that might come out due to a bad view of a play. Targeting flags can, like some other flags, be picked up on the field.
Even with that help, the position change doesn't appear to always be factored in to the call, if judgment is to be made by some of the examples shown by Anderson from last year's action. He admitted that many calls are “very close” and that judgment comes into play, even though it is supposed to be based on the four tenets of the targeting rule described earlier.
If the penalty for targeting were just 15 yards, that would be bad enough, but add in the automatic ejection for violators, and the call becomes much more important. That's the reason for an additional in-game review process, to be conducted by the replay official. As every play is reviewed in college, so too will the targeting call, and if the replay official determines that targeting should not have been called, the ejection can be overturned. However, the penalty will still be enforced, which will certainly lead to a great deal of confusion. It begs the question as to why, if the penalty shouldn't have been called, that part of the the punishment is still enforced? Anderson said that the rules committee didn't want to get into reviewing every penalty, but in effect, that is what the replay official will be doing, even though it can remove only part of the punishment.
Furthering the in-game pressure, there is no avenue for an after the fact review of an ejection for targeting. Once the call is made in the game and the next play is run, the ejection will stand.
The biggest challenge will be for coaches to teach the new rules to their players in the short time frame of the fall. Players that have played and learned one way to hit and tackle are going to have to learn different techniques. Staying low, wrapping up and avoiding the head and neck area will be the keys, and while that's “old school” as Anderson put it, it's also what the game appears to be returning to. Whether or not defenders can learn these techniques quickly and avoid the temptation to go for the highlight hit remains to be seen, but given the examples shown by the Big 12, there are likely to be a number of these calls in the early part of 2013.
OTHER RULE CHANGES
Players that lose their helmets will still be forced to come out of the game for one play unless their team calls a timeout. In that case, the player can participate in the next play.
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If the clock is stopped for an injury in the final minute of either half, the team with the injured player is subject to having a ten second clock runoff assessed. This will remove the incentive to fake an injury to stop the clock.
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If the clock is stopped with either two or one seconds left in either half, only one play can be run. By rule, the offense will not be allowed to spike the ball and stop the clock for an additional play. If they do that, even if the clock stops again, the official will declare the half over by rule.
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Effort is also being made to simplify rules against blocks below the waist, and make the rules more uniform. Other than on inside running plays inside the tackle box, blocks below the waist will now be prohibited unless them come from the front of the player being blocked. This will allow the blocked player to see the low block coming and protect his knees and ankles.