Official: Expect Some Ejections For Targeting

For the last several years I have gone with Dave Hunziker, play-by-play voice on the Cowboys Radio Network, to the College Football Officiating West/Big 12 Football Officials Clinic in Irving, Texas. It is a mass gathering of officials from the Big 12, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC, MIAA, Rocky Mountain, and Lone Star conferences as they discuss issues for the upcoming college football season.

With Walt Anderson, an NFL referee who serves as the Coordinator of Football Officiating for the Big 12, and veteran officials like former NFL official David Warden, the Big 12 Coordinator of Replay Officials, Phil Laurie with the MIAA, and helpers like NFL referees Walt Coleman III and Bill Leavy in attendance it is always a great learning experience. Heck, even NFL officiating legend Red Cashion was there.

This year's event was extremely important to attend as a couple of major officiating factors will come into play this season. One is a game changing beef up of an already enforced rule and the other is a change in the roster for football officials.

Anderson encourages media attendance to attend, among those at the event this year were Hunziker and myself, Texas radio voice Craig Way, Baylor radio voice John Morris, TCU radio voice Brian Estridge, Berry Tramel from The Oklahoman, and Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News.

"Our game is under attack and the focus that is out there and universal on head injuries and concussions is not going away," Anderson told the media in a private session and then in the ballroom he made the same statement to the entire clinic with all the officials, media, and even a few college football coaches that attended.

"We want to work on eliminating those injuries that can be prevented because of intent. We have to change the culture of celebrating illegal hits, but instead celebrate good, legal, hard hits." The big change this season is that when a player is flagged for targeting he will be ejected. Here is the way the rule reads:
Targeting/Initiating Contact with Crown of the Helmet ARTICLE 3.
No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul. PENALTY—Personal foul. 15 yards. For dead-ball fouls, 15 yards from the succeeding spot. Also, automatic first down for Team B fouls if not in conflict with other rules. (Exception: Penalties for Team A personal fouls behind the neutral zone are enforced from the previous spot. Safety if the foul occurs behind Team A's goal line) [S7, S24, S34, S38, S39, S40, S41, S45 or S46]. Flagrant offenders shall be disqualified [S47].

For Team A fouls during free or scrimmage kick plays: Enforcement may be at the previous spot or the spot where the subsequent dead ball belongs to Team B (field-goal plays exempted) (Rules 6-1-8 and 6-3-13).

Defenseless Player: Contact to Head or Neck Area ARTICLE 4
No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul. (See Points of Emphasis for a description of "Defenseless Player.")

PENALTY—(Same as above)

To clarify that even more, a player guilty of targeting in the first half of a game one week sits out that game, but if he is disqualified for the infraction in the second half of a game then he must sit out the first half of the game the following week.

One official in the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association told me that in the Jayhawk Football Conference, a junior college league, the penalty is really stiff, two games suspended for the guilty player, no questions asked.

Anderson is right in his assessment and with the advent of so many outlets, of so much college football on TV not so much game broadcasts but highlight shows, Jumbotron video boards in stadiums, and YouTube and social networking, video of crushing hits have become the most preferred and celebrated highlights.

As Anderson explained, and so many of us with years involved in the game know, some of those hits are perfectly legal. But many are created by players looking to make that blow and going beyond the rules with their intent to "blow up" an opposing player. Medical professionals, politicians and activists looking for a cause are criticizing the extra violent aspect that has grown into the game.

Anderson reminded all at the clinic that the coaches and administrators that sit on the rules committee have made the rule and set the policy, and the officials are there to enforce.

"Our game much be changed from within (by us enforcing these rules), or it will be changed by those outside the game," said Anderson in front of all attendees at the clinic. "We know there are going to be injuries, head injuries from legal contact, but we have to make sure we get this illegal element where players get hurt out of the game of football."

Big 12 referee Bill Defee went further and more graphic.

"I was in Indianapolis with the rules committee and the coaches on it," said Defee. "They challenged the officials, we want to see if you officials have the (guts) to make those calls and eject those players."

To show you how dramatic this could be, one video session on Saturday showed there was one Big 12 team (not OSU) that would have had three players ejected in one half of a one game last season.

"That is a big, big play and if you look at the video that we've seen there is one team that I believe in one game last year would have had three or four of their defensive starters disqualified," said 20-year Division I veteran Big 12 official and eight-year veteran referee Greg Burks, who as in the same session.

"That is a huge impact. It won't change the way we officiate it but it will change the perception. But we do have to change the game in that area because of the impact of concussions and head injuries that has on the players. We have no choice but to make these changes happen and that is going to mean, initially some adjustment by players and coaches. But I think it is going to make the game better."

To make it simple, and allow everyone to be more educated on what the officials are looking for, they have keys, much like for holding and pass interference. These aren't totally iron clad but they are very effective.

Remember the situations don't just occur with defenders but also during blocking situations, especially blind side hits with blockers on offense and kick and punt returns.

Key indicators of a targeting foul are:
Launch: a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make contact in the head or neck area.
Thrust: A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with contact at the head or neck area – even though one or both feet are still on the ground.
Strike: Leading with the helmet, forearm, fist, hand, or elbow to attack at the head or the neck area.
Crown of the helmet: Lowering the head before attacking by initiating contact with the crown of the helmet.

Key indicators there might not be a targeting foul are:
Head-Up: A head-up tackle where the crown of the helmet does not strike above the shoulders. The tackler sees what he is hitting.
Head to the side: The tacklers' head is to the side and not used for making contact.
Wrap Up: The tackler uses his arms to wrap up the ball carrier and secure the tackle.
Position Change: The hitter is trying to make a legal hit and has committed to a tackle below the shoulders and the other player ducks and lowers his body to cause the head to head collision.

As you read, the penalty is 15 yards plus disqualification of the guilty player. With that high a price the pressure will be on officials not to make a mistake.

On the field, Anderson strongly encouraged communication between the officiating crew before making the call. Examples were shown from the previous season where that very thing helped avoid a bad call. Now officials are being encouraged that when in doubt, throw the flag and call it.

The new eighth official (Monday's topic) will help the referee with hits on the quarterback and whether targeting is the call. On the back end of the play with receivers and defensive backs, where a lot of hits take place, 18-year veteran side judge Gene Semko, an attorney in his day job, says teamwork will be a key.

"A lot of times the guy from the peripheral you might not be able to see him coming and he might be the person that is targeting," said Semko. "That is where we have to rely on the off official like the head linesman, (or) the back judge in this case.

"We would rely on them to see the person coming up the back with the brick in their hand so to speak because I'm so focused on my receiver and what he is going to do (making the catch and whether it is legal). On a play to the middle of the field then I'm going to help because my focus is not on my area and whether he made the catch or there was pass interference. I can help with the target."

The replay official will always review a targeting call and they can buzz the referee to let him know that he did not feel the hit warranted disqualification. But the replay official cannot reverse the penalty. It will be marked off regardless.

Coaches have been informed, and Anderson met in May with head coaches in Phoenix to fully inform them of all of this and the importance of coaching this element out of the game. That said, officials see a rough start to the season from the aspect of players being disqualified. Fans and coaches will not be happy.

"I'm going to guess, and this is just a guess, that the first several weeks might be difficult," said Burks being careful in his comment. "The reason this step was taken is because the play hasn't been altered enough. There is no change in the rule except the disqualification."

But if the disqualified player is a team's best pass rushing defensive end, leading tackler at linebacker, or best cover corner or nickel safety then the message is going to get through. There will still be plenty of hard hits, but for awhile I predict there will be more than a few missing players.

(This is a two-part series on some very important changes ahead this season in college football that have to do with the officials. The first is targeting and will pertain to all of college football and the second is just in the Big 12 with an experimental new eighth official.)

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