CHICAGO | A new targeting rule designed to prevent concussions in football is good for the game, coaches said Wednesday.
“If you’re defenseless, you should be protected,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said at the Big Ten’s football media day. “There’s no question the health, safety, well-being of the student-athletes is the No. 1 priority.
“Back in my day, we wore neck rolls and the game was played from the breadth of this (10-foot-wide) table. There were certain days of the week I couldn’t practice because of the physical pounding you went through in game day.”
The rule, approved by the NCAA rules committee in the spring, is designed to eliminate the headhunting that has gone on in the game for decades, despite rules against it. The new rule means an automatic ejection along with the previous 15-yard personal foul, and if the foul occurs in the second half, the player can’t play until the second half of the following game, even if that game is the following season.
In short, players will no longer be able to tackle players in the head or with the head.
Last year, there were 99 calls in the Big Ten that would have resulted in ejection.
The highlight-reel big hit by South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in last season’s Outback Bowl, the one that sent Smith’s helmet popping into the sky? That would result in Clowney’s ejection this season.
So would many other previously-legal tackles, including those that start with a defender hitting a player with a shoulder at the start of a tackle, and an instant later, hitting the player with or in the head.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, while endorsing safety, is wary of the rule’s execution.
“They’re bang-bang flagrant fouls to anybody in the stands,” Ferentz said. “Anybody can recognize that (they) need to (be) dealt with, but I think on the plays that are bang-bang, which many are, I’m just hoping the officials use good judgment.
“And I know they’ve talked about video replay being instituted, too, which I think would really be something that needs to be done. It’s concerning.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini agreed, saying “The scary thing is the application part of it.”
Replay review will be used, and if the call is overturned, the 15-yard personal foul penalty will still apply.
“The rules we have are for the welfare of the student-athlete,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Plays that result in concussions need to be addressed. We had an issue last year where a player had a concussion and had to be taken out of the Penn State game.”
But, Beckman said, he doesn’t see college football turning into flag football.
“We’re still going to be aggressive with our defensive schemes,” Beckman said. “But we have to inform and educate our players.”
Big Ten officials will visit schools during training camp to explain the new rule and show a video showing what will and will not be allowed.
“I know Bill (Carollo, the conference’s coordinator of officials) will have for us ... what hits from a year ago would be labeled targeting,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m a rather large hockey fan, and to see the way the (NHL) rules have changed to where it's a more athletic game and guys aren’t being boarded -- it’s the same for football.
“There will be some hits I’m looking forward to learning from and seeing exactly how that’s going to be officiated."
Fitzgerald was a two-time national defensive player of the year in his playing days, and loves physical football, but he sees the sense in protecting players from themselves.
“I think we’re trending in a positive direction,” Fitzgerald said. “Are we at the destination? I’m not sure we ever will be. I think that will be an ongoing progression of making the kids and the game safer and safer. I think we’re in a positive place.”