The rules you craft to eliminate gratuitous violence out ot sports will always be imperfect and unpopular with at least those who want gratuitous violence. The good (or bad) old days are gone due to lawsuits from former players, such as the $700+ million NFL concussion settlement. Whatever penalties exist have to be substantial to be defendable in court. Essentially, your working to eliminate the mentality that it is a good thing to knock an opponent out of a game/season/career due to an intent to injure. You can tweak the rule or the penalty, but the movement to more player safety will continue.
The NCAA’s new targeting rule is living up to it’s billing. Back on July 22nd I wrote that it “will be the most controversial rule change in ages.” Well, we’re just halfway through the 2013 season and already lots of folks are saying that the rule needs to be changed.
And just wait until we reach November, when conference titles and spots in the BCS title game are on the line. The worst is clearly yet to come with the new 15-yards-and-an-ejection penalty.
The push to alter the new rule will be led by coaches this offseason. For all the fan and media outrage, if coaches and their ADs get behind a change, a change will likely come. Georgia’s Mark Richt — whose voice may carry more weight because he seldom raises it — was stung by the rule in Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt (see the second link above) and he would like to see it changed. He’s already got an idea for fixing this well-meaning but difficult-to-call penalty:
“My guess is (video reversals) will be one of the biggest topics, the hottest topics, on this rule. Whether or not you’re going to review it to let a guy stay in the game because you don’t think it was targeting, (then) you might possibly take the penalty away (as well).”
Makes sense. Such a move wouldn’t change the fact that players need to avoid targeting-style hits on their foes. And that type of alteration would be deemed “fairer” by fans, media and coaches alike.
If the NCAA opens the door to review judgement call penalties, there’s no telling what will come next. You’d better believe some would clamor for interference calls to be reviewed. Then holding calls. Then all calls. Do that and the officials on the field will be so gun-shy about tossing flags and being corrected by an eye in the sky that they’ll not properly do their jobs.
Yes, that is probably an overly strong usage of the “slippery slope” argument, but allowing booth reviews on judgement calls would be a large step. It’s one thing to check and see if a player’s foot landed in bounds or out of bounds. It’s quite another for a booth official to overrule a ref on the field because one thinks a kid was targeting and the other doesn’t. Video evidence — hard, clear evidence — can be used to overturn fumble calls and juggled catches. It would simply be a matter of opinion as to whether or not a player intentionally targeted another player or not.
Look, I’m in favor of that change and a booth official already has the power to “un-eject” a player based on his opinion of a hit. But when it comes to waving off a flag based on nothing more than opinion — “I don’t think he meant to do it” — that’s a big step.
Unfortunately, big steps are necessary when a well-meaning rule is so poorly written that no one is really sure what will be deemed as targeting from week to week and game to game.