New targeting penalty subject of scrutiny

Written by Sam Werner on .

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This morning the media had a chance to meet with ACC coordinator of football officials Doug Rhoads. Rhoads explained the new rule changes going into effect this season, complete with video explanation.

The most significant change is that a player flagged for targeting a defenseless player or initiating a hit with the crown of the helmet will now be ejected from the game in addition to the 15-yard penalty.

"Just coming in to blow that guy up is no longer a part of the game," Rhoads said.

Initiating contact with the crown of the helmet is pretty simple. No player is allowed to lead on a tackle using the top ("crown") of their helmet.

As for targeting a defenseless player, the penalty prohibits defenders from making any sort of contact above the shoulders with a "defenseless player." What is a defenseless player, you ask? There are nine types of defenseless players, with three new for this season. They are...

1. A player in act of passing
2. A receiver attempting to catch pass prior to becoming a runner
3. A kicker in the act of kicking/during kick or return
4. A returner attempting to catch or recover a kick
5. A player on the ground
6. A player obviously out of the play
7. A player who receives a blind-side block
8. A ball carrier in the grasp
9 .A quarterback any time after change of possession

Those last three are the new ones, and the last one seems like a pretty clear response to Aaron Murray getting blindsided in last year's SEC title game (video below)

So for either of the above penalties, the offending player is automatically ejected. If he is ejected in the second half of a game, he must also sit out the first half of the next game.

Officials will automatically review any such ejection, but the video evidence must be "indisputable beyond all doubt," which is a pretty high standard to re-instate the offending player.

The real problem comes in when there are some truly borderline calls, like this one on Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner from last season.

According to Rhoads, Joyner was correctly flagged and, this year, would have been ejected. On the replay, it's very close to where Joyner makes contact. Since the receiver is by definition a "defenseless player," any contact above the shoulders would warrant the penalty. Media members in the room today were pretty split on whether or not it was above the shoulders or not but, since the video evidence is certainly not indisputable, Joyner's ejection would stand.

Now, with all that being said, Rhoads said there were only 16 flags for targeting/crown of the helmet penalties in ACC games last year, so it's not like players will be getting thrown out of every game left and right. But, just like any new controversial rule change, this one will probably rear its ugly head at a critical time at some point this season.

At the end of the session, Rhoads casually mentioned that he thought South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney should've been ejected for his hit against Michigan running back Vincent Smith.

It initially looks like a clean hit, but if you look closer you can see that Clowney does, in fact, lead the tackle with the crown of his helmet. By rule, he should be ejected this season for that kind of hit. Think of it what you will, but those are the rules.

A couple of other rule changes for this year...

- Any time the clock is stopped for an injury in the final minute of a half, there will be a 10-second runoff. This is designed to prevent teams from faking injuries to stop the clock. The opponent can decline the runoff if they choose (if, say, the defense thinks they can get the ball back), and the injured team can also "buy out" of the 10-second runoff with a timeout if they have one.

- In end of half situations, there must be at least three seconds on the clock for a team to be able to spike the ball. If a team tries to spike the ball with less than three seconds on the clock, the game/half will be over by rule.

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