LAS VEGAS - NFL official and CFO West representative Walt Anderson said the new NCAA targeting rule requires officials to “step up their game.”
“Because the charge is so high..” Anderson said, speaking with reporters at Mountain West Conference media day, “[officials] standard is higher.”
The NCAA’s new rule, designed to eliminate intentional helmet contact, has come under heavy scrutiny since it was announced this winter. Its implimentation comes in response to growing concerns over concussions in football.
“We’re working to make the game as safe we can,” Anderson said. “The tension…is balancing making the game safe…[in a] contact sport.”
Critics contend the rule threatens neuters the game, particular on the defensive end. On Monday, two different authorities fanned the flames with their assessments of Jadeveon Clowney’s often replayed hit of Michigan running back Vincent Smith in January’s Outback Bowl.
Both ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads and former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira said they would have penalized Clowney per the targeting rule.
Stakes for such penalties is high. Beyond the customary 15 yards, a player flagged for targeting receives a disqualification and suspension. Anderson said players DQ’d in a second half are automatically suspended for the following game’s first half.
Trepidation is justified with so much riding on officials’ snap judgments. To that end, review booth officials can override a disqualification.
Anderson said officials have been given four points of emphasis to gauge a targeting flag.
Launch: This refers to a player leaving his feet and coming into an opponent at a high angle.
Thrust: Thrust is the same as launch, only the offender does not leave the turf. Emphasis here is on the player making contact doing so high, at the opponent’s head or neck.
Strike: Contact made at the head or neck with any part of the body covers this point of emphasis.
Crown: Use of the crown of the helmet remains a high priority. Contact with the crown on any part of an opponent is grounds for a targeting flag.
Anderson addressed the four contrary low risk factors that officials are to watch.
Head-Up: The engaging player comes in with his head up high. Facemask-to-facemask plays can still draw a penalty flag, but targeting is less likely. This is the emphasis point behind the controversy of the Clowney tackle on Smith, as the South Carolina defensive end came into the play with helmet high.
Wrap-Up: A defender making what Anderson called “an old fashioned tackle,” wrapping up his target to bring him down, is at low risk for a penalty.
Head-To-Side: This refers to an engaging player moving his head to the side when making contact.
Position Change: A tackled player moving into a position that results in helmet contact is sure to be the most controversial of targeting calls this season. Anderson said officials are being trained to recognize when helmet collision is “incidental,” as a result of player movement.