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The reasoning behind NCAA's changes to targeting penalty

There was a lot of concern across the college football world when the NCAA announced earlier this month that players penalized for targeting would now be ejected from the game. Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, who just so happens to also serve as the chair of the NCAA's football rules committee, appeared on the ESPNU college football podcast with Ivan Maisel to explain the committee's intent of the rule. 

Maisel asked the questions that immediately bubbled over everyone's heads after first learning the news, primarily: why jump all the way from a 15-yard penalty to an ejection?

"When it was only a 15-yard penalty, we just felt like maybe that wasn't firm enough for a hit that we know is extraordinarily dangerous and something that we want to remove from the game," said Calhoun. 

Calhoun said that the speed of the game, and the force that players bring with them, required the committee to take such a strong stance to protect defenseless players. 

"You look at the raw physics of football, it's much different than it was 30 years ago," explained Calhoun. "You have much bigger bodies that move much more swiftly and so the sheer force that's involved is certainly increased. You want to be practical. The thing that we don't want to do is have somebody be ejected that shouldn't be ejected. That's where the part of the instant replay comes to the surface. I do think, by and large, if I'm an official there's no way I'm going to call this unless I absolutely, definitely see it. If for some reason it's missed, instant replay is able to review it."

According to the statistics reviewed by the committee, the specific hit the NCAA is attempting to remove from the game occurred only 99 times during the 2012 FBS season. Calhoun describes the specific hit that the committee wants to force into extinction.

"There are some times these hits occur that are away from the ball. Perhaps on a linebacker on an underneath route against a wide receiver, or on a wide receiver that will crack-back block on a defensive back, that can be reviewed after a game." 

Calhoun thinks that for this rule to be successful in its implementation, the conference commissioners will need to form an oversight committee of sorts to rule on blows to the head that were called, and not called, on the previous Saturday. 

"It's pretty simple, really, to make a recommendation if there was a severity of a hit that's beyond what's acceptable in football, especially when it's a blow to the head," he said. "This is just a hit that, for the impact that's involved, it's dangerous. A lot of times the hit is glamorized just because it looks spectacular, at least in terms of the contact and the body movements that occur. We've got to get it out of the game."

As a coach, Calhoun knows as well as anyone that head-to-head contact will never completely leave football, and he reassured the worried masses that only the most malicious hits will be, for lack of a better word, targeted.

"There are things that are involved in tackling a ball-carrier where there's going to be some helmet-to-helmet contact. That's just going to happen," Calhoun concluded. "We're talking about somebody that's defenseless, a crack-back block on a linebacker or on a safety. A lot of times it's in the passing game, running a same route around the hashes where a defender hits a wide receiver or a tight end that's stretched out. There is a difference in that intent."

For those still not pacified by Calhoun's explanation, remember this: Two years ago, the college football community was sent into a similar uproar when it was announced that taunting penalties would now be treated as live-ball fouls and could result in a touchdown being wiped off the scoreboard. Surely you remember the outrage. Two seasons later, I think we can agree college football has emerged unscathed. Doomsday was avoided then, and it will be again with this rule. 

Author: Zach Barnett
Zach Barnett is a native of Denton, Texas and a graduate of the University of Texas. He joined FootballScoop in 2012 after two years at the National Football Foundation. His hobbies include watching college football, reading about college football and writing about college football.