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Concerned game officials were consolidating too much power, many college coaches and fans greeted the year-old targeting rule with a healthy dose of skepticism when it was introduced before last season.
Now the rule has been tweaked.
A year ago, when officials ruled targeting, the guilty player was automatically ejected unless the ruling was reversed upon replay review. In addition, officials marked off a mandatory 15-yard penalty.
However, even if the ejection component of targeting was overturned, the 15-yard penalty stood. Quickly grasping the rule's nonsensicality, analysts debated the inconsistency within the rule - was it proper to reverse the officials' targeting ruling, yet still enforce a harsh yardage penalty?
Apparently, the NCAA Rules Committee listened.
Beginning this year, when replay reverses a targeting call and the player is allowed to continue playing, no penalty yardage will be marked off unless the officials find grounds for another misdeed such as spearing.
"If a targeting foul is overturned by replay, not only does the player get to go back into the game, but the 15-yard penalty does not apply," SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw told reporters at the SEC spring meetings in Destin. "It's just logic. But you have to listen intently to the referee's announcement.
"If there is another foul in conjunction with targeting, the penalty will stay. So, for example, if there is a roughing the passer penalty with targeting and then it's reviewed and they take the targeting away, we're still going to mark off the penalty even though the player could come back into the game."
Besides roughing the passer, other major penalties that could be called simultaneously with targeting are kick catch interference, unnecessary roughness, late hit and pass interference.
"You could have a number of different personal fouls with targeting," Shaw said. "If we have that in conjunction with targeting, the penalty will stay regardless of whether the targeting component is overturned. So, if the referee just says, 'Personal foul targeting' and then it's overturned, there will no 15-yard walk off."
The second major rule change relating to "player safety" for 2014 is the prohibition of low hits on quarterbacks, a change that mirrors the current NFL rule, which is dubbed "The Tom Brady Rule" since the New England Patriots quarterback missed an entire season several years ago with a serious knee injury after a defender rolled into him after he threw a pass.
Under the new college rule, when a player, presumably the quarterback in most situations, is in a "passing posture," an unabated defender (Shaw's translation: "he has a clean shot at him [QB] and is under his own power") may not hit the quarterback at or below the knees.
In a release, the NCAA stated: "The rule specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground. In that situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit him forcibly at or below the knee. The defensive player also may not initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee area or below."
The quarterback does not have to be in the pocket for the rule to apply, Shaw said. Exceptions to the rule occur when a quarterback becomes a runner or when a defender "is not rushing unabated or is blocked or fouled into the passer."
"He could scramble out (of the pocket) and then reset up," Shaw said. "But if the quarterback is on the dead run and is scrambling out of the pocket and then looks to throw as he is scrambling, he doesn't get this protection. It's only if he is in a passing posture and he is hit at the knees or below. Then it's a 15-yard personal foul penalty like roughing the passer."
The SEC will also experiment with an eighth official in a limited number of games this upcoming season. The conference has nine officiating crews with one specified crew working throughout the season with eight officials. The additional crew member has been titled "Center Judge" and will wear a 'C' on the back of his striped uniform.
The Center Judge will be positioned opposite the referee in the offensive backfield.
"A lot of people think we're doing this to go faster due to pace of play," Shaw said. "Actually, the intent is not to change our pace. We've worked to have all nine crews be the same way and operate at the same pace. Nationally, we're working on that."
When a no-huddle team possesses the football on offense, the Center Judge will be responsible for spotting the ball after each play.
"That allows the referee and the umpire to do their normal duty," Shaw said. "The referee still has to monitor for substitutions. If the offense substitutes, the referee will give the 'T' and that means the defense has an opportunity to match up. In that situation, rather than having the umpire come back to the ball, the center judge will stay there. He will be the one that yo-yos in and out and holds the offense."
The SEC crew consisting of eight officials will rotate each week and by the end of the season should have worked at least one game involving every conference team.
"We should get good feedback from the coaches and really see if this is something that is beneficial to our game," Shaw said.