NCAA football rules committee recommends targeting appeal

FILE - Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields gets hit by Clemson linebacker James Skalski during the first half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans. Skalski was ejected from the game for targeting. Players ejected for targeting in the second half of a college football game could be eligible to play the following game after an appeal through the conference office if a recommendation handed down Friday, March 4, 2022 by the NCAA rules committee is approved.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) (Gerald Herbert, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Players ejected for targeting in the second half of a college football game could be eligible to play the following game after an appeal through the conference office, if a recommendation handed down Friday by the NCAA rules committee is approved.

After four days of meetings in Indianapolis, the committee also recommended penalizing all open-field blocks below the waist and creating an investigation process for allegations of a team faking injuries that could lead to conferences penalizing schools and coaches.

Recommendations need approval from the playing rules oversight panel in April and would go into effect next season.

The committee discussed changing how the game clock is managed to shorten games by both time and number of plays, but decided not to act.

The average FBS game was 3 hours, 28 minutes last season and included about 137 offensive plays.

Shaving time and plays out of college football games has become a discussion point recently as conference commissioners considered possibly expanding the playoff, a move that could increase the maximum length of a season to 16 or even 17 games for a few teams.

Attempts to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams by the 2024 season failed and the soonest a new format would be implemented now is 2026.

National coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said the number of players per game has plateaued over the last six seasons after a slight decrease.

“But we have talked about at some point do we need to address this if the season does get longer because it is a longer playoff,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, the rules committee chairman.

The rules committee has been looking at ways to discourage the faking of injuries, mostly by defensive players to slow down up-tempo offenses, for several years.

Steve Shaw said the committee remains apprehensive to implement in-game alterations. The concern is a rule requiring players who are treated on the field to miss the remainder of an offensive possession would incentivize players who are actually hurt to play through an injury.

“So now for questionable game action, the institution or the conference can consult the national coordinator of officials to facilitate a video review. And if there are findings that will now go back to the conference office, and the conference office will deal with the institution, the coach, to get that corrected,” Steve Shaw said.

Suggested punishments were not recommended, but David Shaw said he would prefer coaches face “severe penalties" for coaching players to feign injuries.

“This is one of those things that is getting taught that is unethical,” David Shaw said. “So as best we can to drive this out, hopefully, we’ll get some partnership from conference officials, conference commissioners, leaning on some of these coaches that are teaching things unethical.”

The targeting foul has been a constant point of contention among coaches, players and fans, but there has been no serious movement toward changing it. Targeting, implemented in its current form in 2008, results in a 15-yard penalty, plus the ejection of the flagged player.

Players ejected in the first half of a game do not have to miss the following game. Players ejected at any point in the second half are required to sit out the first half of the following game.

Under the committee's proposal, the conference office can submit a request to the national coordinator of officials to review a second-half targeting foul.

The committee recommended if it is “clearly, obvious” the targeting call was incorrect, it would be retroactively overturned and the player would be permitted to play in the first half of the following game.

"The committee strongly supports the targeting rule and believes it continues to directly support player health and safety and technique,” David Shaw said.

Tweaks have been made in recent years to the way targeting is reviewed by video officials in-game that have led to more fouls called on the field being overturned.

Some coaches have called for a two-level targeting foul, with only the most flagrant drawing an ejection.

Rules makers have been reluctant to make the penalty less punitive, saying it has helped change player behavior and decreased the number of dangerous hits — though it has been difficult to quantify these observations.

A study of data from Pac-12 games from 2016-19 recently published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, showed the risk of concussion on a targeting play was 37 times more than on all other plays.

The number of targeting fouls per game has not fluctuated much in recent seasons. According to NCAA data, it was 0.20 per game in 2021, about one every five games. That was down from 0.27 per game in 2020, but up slightly from 2019 (0.19).


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