Southeastern Conference coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said Wednesday that the league plans to ask the NCAA Football Rules Committee after this season to exam penalties being assessed on the field after a targeting foul has been overturned by replay.
“Even our commissioner has serious reservations about the penalty philosophy around targeting fouls when they’re overturned,” Shaw said on the SEC teleconference, referring to Mike Slive. “He and I have talked. He’s challenged me, and together we’re going to work with the rules committee to revisit the penalty if a disqualification is overturned for targeting.”
That’s what happened to Georgia when inside linebacker Ramik Wilson was flagged for targeting on a fourth-down incompletion to Jonathan Krause in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s 31-27 loss Saturday at Vanderbilt.
The automatic ejection was overturned, but as the targeting rule states, the 15-yard penalty was assessed, keeping alive a Vanderbilt drive and the Commodores scored a touchdown.
Shaw favors not penalizing those 15 yards after the player ejection is waved off if it’s only a targeting foul.
Shaw wouldn’t talk about specific targeting calls, but he talked generally about the four called in SEC games this weekend, the most this season in the league. He said there was no added emphasis for calls on Saturday.
Two of the calls were just “absolute textbook targeting,” Shaw said. One was in the gray area (which may have been Georgia defensive end Ray Drew’s hit on Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels on a play that Georgia coach Mark Richt said Drew appeared to be “trying to pull up,”), but Shaw said clearly by rule it was a targeting foul and the other — Wilson’s — was “properly overturned.”
The NCAA has put an emphasis on targeting this year — hitting a defenseless player above the shoulders — to further enhance player safety and discourage players from launching their bodies and making high hits. That has worked as the number of targeting calls have decreased.
The rule has been in place since 2008, but the automatic ejection aspect of the penalty was added.
“I think it’s a rule we have to have,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “When there’s a helmet-to-helmet hit and the tackler could avoid it, the penalty 15 yards and ejection is something to think about. We had one last week and I told our safety, J.J Marcus, J.J., you can’t tackle like that anymore. I know you’re used to that.’ … He did lower his head and hit him in the helmet and that’s a penalty.’”
There have been 14 targeting calls in the SEC this season and six have had the ejection overturned.
Shaw expressed concern about getting close to the “bright line” of making judgment calls from the booth by reviewing not only the ejection but the penalty itself.
“Maybe this is an area we need to talk about with the rules committee and really flesh it out,” he said. “Sometimes a targeting foul is only a targeting foul and if you overturn it, there isn’t any foul on the play or shouldn’t have been.”
Shaw said it will be need to be “talked through” when there is roughing the passer as well as targeting on a play.
“Do we want replay to kind of cross over that line to say, ‘OK, we’re going to overturn the disqualification but we still think it was roughing the passer,’” Shaw said. “That would be a huge leap within our replay.”
Shaw said “whether I like it or not,” the rulebook states when in question, it’s a foul.
“We can’t guess,” he said. “We can’t think it might have been. We’ve got to see it, know it’s a foul before we put the marker on the ground, but these things happen in a split second and so when in question, the book says put the marker on the ground.”
There have been 52 targeting fouls called in FBS games this season in 478 total games, according to the NCAA. Of those 52, 15 were reversed by instant replay.
“We all knew very clearly that any call that was in the gray area was going to get called and you were probably going to get the penalty but you had the ability to take the ejection off,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “That’s why we tried to emphasize it as much as we can to tackle from the chest down. That’s difficult to do because some of these kids have been tackling that way for the last 10 years.”
Spurrier and Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins mentioned how players may be more at risk for knee injuries due to the targeting rule.
Jenkins cited Georgia tailback Keith Marshall’s season-ending ACL tear against Tennessee.
“That’s just going to end up taking more and more guys knees out because guys don’t want to even want to hit anywhere close to the head, so they start aiming for legs and knees,” Jenkins said.
Said Spurrier: “You’re getting a few more knees maybe getting knocked out in some places because of this. Hopefully players will tackle around the chest area. That’s the safest for all concerned and keep their heads out of it.”
A targeting foul was called once every eight games last season nationally compared to once every 9 to 10 games this season.
“The rule is working as the rules makers wanted it to,” Shaw said. “As we all know, the game’s under attack. We’re getting more and more information about concussions and the impact short-term, long-term and there’s a lot we still don’t know. The rule was intended to modify player behavior, change how coaches interact with their players and modify the player behavior on the field.”
Any change to the rule, however, will have to wait until after this season.