If a proposed new rule had been in effect last October, former Utah safety Marquise Blair would have missed all of the next game after receiving his second targeting penalty of the football season.
Then again, a more thorough review of each call may have kept Blair from being penalized at all.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee is proposing a harsher, more progressive penalty for targeting, while suggesting that in-game reviews apply higher standards to the call. Any penalty that comes with an ejection would have to be “confirmed,” beyond a judgment that the call “stands” and is not overturned.
Elements of targeting include using the crown of the helmet, or forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent. Designed in the interest of player safety, the rule has been especially controversial since stiffer sanctions were added in 2012, because it seems to be applied inconsistently.
Utah drew five targeting penalties last season, two involving Blair. Coach Kyle Whittingham continually expressed frustration about those rulings, saying the judgment seemed "arbitrary“ and "capricious” after star linebacker Chase Hansen was flagged in the first quarter at Colorado in November.
Under the current rule, a player who’s penalized in the first half is ejected from the game; if the penalty occurs in the second half, the player is suspended for the first half of the next game. The new proposal would extend the suspension to a full game, for a second offense of the season. The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel will meet April 17 regarding the measure.
“I'm all for safety and the health of the players, but that's a pretty stiff penalty now,” Whittingham said of the proposal. “I don't know what the answer is.”
Whittingham and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley like the idea that targeting calls — already being reviewed by the replay official, in each case — would require more scrutiny to be upheld.
“It's nice to know that those replays really will be looking for every aspect of the rule,” Scalley said. “And that's where we feel we've been burned in the past. Ultimately, whatever the rule is, that's what we've got to live by and that's what we've got to coach. … That's something we practice; we don't practice to use your helmet as a battering ram or as a weapon.”
In January, the American Football Coaches Association had suggested a two-tier penalty for unnecessary roughness, with the targeting ejection applied only when “malicious intent” was involved. The rules committee determined that the using a higher standard in targeting reviews was a better method. “Now what we're saying with this rule is we're going to make sure of the ejection to make sure it's right,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, the committee chairman.
Utah lost Blair and defensive tackle Leki Fotu to questionable targeting calls in a 21-7 loss to Washington in September. Fotu’s penalty nullified Cody Barton’s interception and extended the Huskies’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. Fotu’s absence was noticeable in the first half of a loss at Washington State in Utah’s next game.
Blair again was ejected in the second half at UCLA in October and missed the first half of the next game, at Arizona State. His replacement, Philip Afia, was called for targeting in the first quarter at ASU. Two weeks later, Hansen was ejected in the first quarter of a win at Colorado.