HOOVER, Ala. - SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw describes the new targeting rule as the most significant change in college football in the last quarter century.
Hyperbole? Not much.
"This rule change is probably the most significant rule change in my tenure ever," said Shaw, who worked 21 years as an official before becoming head of SEC officials in 2011. "It has an impact on our game and is very, very important."
Under the new targeting rule, any defensive or special teams player that "targets" a defenseless offensive player or kicker will be penalized 15 yards and ejected from the contest.
And the new rule incorporates far more than simply helmet-to-helmet hits.
"The foul itself hasn't changed," Shaw told the media on Wednesday. "The targeting foul is when a player hits a defenseless player above the shoulders. Everybody says helmet-to-helmet, but elbow, anything above the shoulders, or uses the crown or top of the helmet to deliver a blow, that's a targeting foul. That hasn't changed."
Shaw emphasized the definition of a "defenseless" player has been expanded this season to include quarterbacks and punters throughout a play, and players blocked on blindside hits.
"We still have the same thing - the passer, kicker, receiver coming over the middle, a player completely out of a play, the things we've always had," Shaw said. "But we've added to that list of defenseless players this year. The punter back there has always been a defenseless player during his punting motion, but now for the rest of the down, that punter is defenseless.
"A quarterback who throws an interception, once the ball changes hands, that quarterback now stays a defenseless player throughout the down. Doesn't mean he can't be hit. He can be blocked, he just can't be hit above the shoulders."
Blindside blocks must no longer be above the shoulders or the targeting rule will apply, Shaw said.
"It doesn't mean on these type of blindside blocks you can't make a hard block, you just have to stay off his head, lower your target," Shaw said.
In addition to an expanded definition of a "defenseless player," the penalty for targeting promises to cause the most controversy. The new penalty "mimics" the sanction for fighting, Shaw said.
A player ejected for targeting in the first half of a game will be disqualified for the remainder of that game. But if the targeting foul occurs in the second half, the player must sit out the rest of that game plus the first half of his team's next game.
Hence, targeting fouls that occur early in the second half will be subject to the heaviest penalty in terms of how long a player must sit.
"Playing time is a motivator to our players, and we think this will have a pretty significant impact," Shaw said. "The rules committee really believes this will make a difference. What I hope with this is that this gets through to the players and they change behavior."
Every decision to eject a player for targeting will be subject to instant replay review, a key component of the new rule that convinced most Division I coaches to agree with the critical change.
"Instant replay has continued to evolve over time and instant replay is going to play a big part in this," Shaw said. "This is an important foul, and if it's called we have to be right 100 percent of the time."
Instant replay, though, will not override the 15-yard personal foul penalty flagged by the officials, only the ejection.
"If in replay we see that there was no contact above the shoulders, then replay can actually put that guy back in the game," Shaw said. "So, he can override the disqualification. The foul will still stand. We'll penalize that, but the disqualification can be overridden."
Because of the immersion of instant replay, Shaw said officials have been told that if there is any question whether a hit constitutes targeting, err on the side of ejection and let instant replay alter the outcome.
"The rule book says, not Steve Shaw, when in question, it is a foul," Shaw said. "That's why we have that great back stop of instant replay. It's going to put a little more - I don't want to say pressure - but impact on our replay guys to get it right."
Interestingly, when Shaw showed video of plays from last season to illustrate targeting, the first two incidents involved South Carolina - the hard hit on former Gamecock tight end Justice Cunningham in the season opener at Vanderbilt and D.J. Swearinger's knock-up of an UAB player, a helmet-to-helmet wallop that got him suspended for the Missouri game the following weekend.
The Vanderbilt player, however, was not suspended. Shaw hinted he should have been, maintaining a whack of that magnitude would result in an immediate ejection this year.
"This is the type of hit that we've got to make a change on," Shaw said as the play was shown on the big video screen in. "That's the type of targeting foul we want to get out of the game. (The Vanderbilt player) is going to have to learn to lower his target in this situation."
The target rule shifts the impetus to coaches and players to change the way they teach tackling and the way they play the game, Shaw said.
"Coaches have to teach head-up tackling, see what you hit, lower your target," Shaw said. "Players have to execute what they're being taught. Finally, if the player doesn't execute it properly, the official has to have the courage to put the marker on the ground. Our expectation is that they will."
Shaw hopes the new targeting rule enjoys the same success as the rule put into place a couple of years ago in which unsportsmanlike conduct during a touchdown play nullified the score and brought the ball back to the point of the foul.
The rule change was very controversial at the time, but has produced the change in behavior sought by college football administrators.
"We all had the change with our unsportsmanlike conduct, bringing touchdowns back. Once we got in the season, it became no big deal," Shaw said. "The players changed their behavior. I hope this makes the same impact. We'll see."
-- Unlike last season, a player whose helmet comes off as a result of a targeting foul doesn't have to exit the game for a play (See hit on Cunningham at Vanderbilt last season).
-- Shaw said the blocking below the waist rule has been changed: "To block below the waist, you have to do it from the front."
-- If a player is injured in the last minute of the first half or end of the game, and the injury is the only reason for stopping the clock, there will be a 10-second runoff. "This will get a lot of air during the season," Shaw said.
-- Offenses will not be allowed to spike the ball and stop the clock unless a minimum of three seconds remain in the game. "If they do it properly, they could have time left for a last play," Shaw said. "But if the clock reads two seconds or one second, then there's time for only one play. So most likely you wouldn't want that one play to be spiking the ball. The quarterback will know, if he looks up and sees two seconds left, he's got to run his play, he can't spike it."
-- Instead of a player being forced to the sidelines if his helmet comes off, his team can now take a timeout and get the player back into the game immediately.
-- Two players at the same position won't be allowed to wear the same number.
-- Instant replay has been expanded to include a review of time remaining on the clock at the end of any quarter rather than just the end of the first half or game.
-- Shaw said a national emphasis is on keeping the behavior of coaches on the sidelines "in good shape." Thus, excessive ranting and raving by coaches at officials won't be tolerated as much in the past. Inappropriate behavior will be subject to an unsportsmanlike penalty.
-- Shaw talking about Swearinger's hit against UAB last season that resulted in his one-game suspension as it played on the video screen: "As you can see, a launch right into the head, these are what we call compass plays, that's the type of hit we want out of the game."
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