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New Ejection Rule Will Be The Most Controversial Rule Change In Ages

gfx - honest opinionA pass interference call is often controversial.  The decision to take a touchdown off the board due to a player’s taunts can also be controversial.  Heck, any offside, illegal motion, or delay of game can be controversial.

But when it comes to controversy, college football fans have never seen anything that will rival the NCAA’s new ejection rule for targeting.  This one ranks up there with the two-point conversion and the forward pass in terms of all-time game-changers.

The rule calls for officials to impose a 15-yard penalty and eject any player who uses the crown of his helmet to target a defenseless player above the shoulders..  There is a built-in replay review that will determine if a player should be ejected, but as we’ve all seen in past games, reviews themselves can often be controversial.  (Mainly because we’re just trading one guy’s interpretation for another’s… and it’s still two human eyes and one human brain making the call.)

Under the new rule, any player ejected in the first half of action will miss the rest of the game.  A player ejected during the second half of a game will also miss the first half of his team’s next game.

So what constitutes a “defenseless” player?  Punters and kickers will now be considered defenseless at all times.  They can still be blocked or tackled, but there will be no tolerance for cheap shots.  Quarterbacks after interceptions will be deemed defenseless.  Receivers and return men in the act of catching a ball will be viewed as defenseless.  Ditto any player falling victim to a blindside block.

What about regular ol’ ballcarriers?  Well, they’re going to be protected to, as we’ll explain in just a moment.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said last week the he doesn’t “really like that rule.”  And with good reason.  “I am 6-6, and the guys I go against are 6-3 or 6-foot.  It’s going to be hard for me to get low and not hit them above the shoulders.  It’s football.”

There’s a reason we included that quote from Clowney.  The Gamecock All-American made perhaps the hit of the year when he flattened a Michigan running back during last season’s Outback Bowl.  The play was shown on an almost endless loop on ESPN.


Jadeveon Clowney's Top Play: Hit vs. Michigan


Don’t expect that kind of play to be celebrated in 2013.

Clearly Clowney wasn’t playing dirty; there was literally no other way for him to make that tackle.  And it’s hard to define a running back trying moving toward the line of scrimmage as “defenseless.” But ACC officiating coordinator Doug Rhoads told the ACC media today that he would have ejected Clowney for that hit.  According to reports, Rhoads said he “hasn’t studied” the play, but he felt Clowney used the crown of his helmet which would have warranted an ejection under the new rule.

Rhoads isn’t alone in that interpretation.

Former NFL official and current FOX Sports contributor Mike Pereira said the following when asked by a reporter to watch the Clowney hit:


“Remember what you’re dealing with in ‘targeting.’  It’s the crown of the head.  Not simply the helmet, but the crown of your head.  Not the forehead.  You’re looking for a guy hitting who is looking at the ground.

Boy… (Pereira looks at a freeze frame of the Clowney hit).

If I’m an official, based on ‘when in doubt,’ he’s out.  He’s ejected.  And when that goes to replay there’s no way to overturn it.  There’s a great potential that hit causes an ejection this year.”


All things being equal, here at, we align ourselves most often with the side preaching player safety.  For example, if studies suggested doing away with kickoffs — and someday they probably will — we would back that.  Mainly because it would not ruin the game of football to remove one type of play that we usually only see five or 10 times per contest.

This new targeting rule, though?  It’s a game-changer.  And not in a good way.

Clowney’s hit was so bang-bang that on tape it does not appear as though the player could have done much differently.  It was a tackle.  Granted it was a hard, eye-popping tackle that happened to knock the other guy’s helmet off, but it was just a tackle nonetheless.

Now, if the decision-makers in college football had consulted us — and they rarely do, darn it — we’d have given them three simpler rules to use instead:

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