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Football Rules Committee to examine targeting

One recommendation could be to eliminate the play-stands option for instant replay official

The NCAA Football Rules Committee will discuss fundamental enhancements to the targeting rule this week as it examines ways to evolve the rule.

One of the concepts the committee will discuss at its annual in-person meeting, which will take place Wednesday through Friday in Indianapolis, would be to eliminate the “play stands as called” option for instant replay officials. Currently, when a review can’t confirm or overturn a targeting call, replay officials default to having the original call on the field stand.

The Football Rules Committee will consider recommending that instant replay officials have the options of only confirming or overturning targeting calls in the future. That would be a fundamental change to the way video reviews are conducted.

“Typically, the replay officials’ marching orders were that the ruling on the field is correct unless you have indisputable video evidence to overturn it,” said Steve Shaw, the NCAA secretary-rules editor for football. “In targeting, we will consider having the replay official look at the complete play irrespective to the call on the field.”

Any changes the committee may propose would still need to be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to discuss football recommendations April 17.

Instant replay officials also could be asked to look for all aspects of the targeting rule to render a decision. For example, there must be an indicator of a launch, an upward thrust or lowering of the head with forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player to constitute targeting.

The targeting rule was created in 2008 to prohibit players from initiating contact with an opponent with the crown of the helmet, and to make it a foul to initiate contact and target a defenseless opponent above the shoulders.

The rule has evolved over the last decade, undergoing several tweaks to make it what it is today.

“The targeting rule has served the sport well,” Shaw said. “We can see that it has positively changed player behavior. In the early days of the rule, if we had a player disqualified for something that was on the margin of the rule, everyone was fine with it. As we’ve matured in the rule, there is sentiment to look at the rule.”

Shaw said the committee will also discuss whether additional penalties should be applied to players who are penalized multiple times for targeting.

Kickoffs

The 2018 season brought a rule change that allowed returners to fair catch a kickoff and have it result in a touchback, placing the ball at the 25-yard line to start the ensuing drive. Twelve percent of kickoffs ended in fair catches at the Football Bowl Subdivision level last season.

“We are going to look at the injury data on kickoffs,” Shaw said. “The ultimate goal is to make it as safe as any other scrimmage down.”

The committee will consider extending the fair-catch provision to a ball that is not cleanly caught but still recovered by the receiving team. The rules now call for the receiving team to keep the ball, but at the spot where a muffed kickoff reception is recovered. The committee will also discuss the possibility of eliminating all double-team blocks on kickoff plays.

Overtime

The committee will examine whether overtime rules should be changed.

NCAA overtime rules allow both teams a possession starting at the defensive team’s 25-yard line. If the game remains tied after two overtimes, teams must attempt two-point conversions after scoring a touchdown.

Last year, 33 Football Bowl Subdivision games went to overtime, and only five went past two overtimes. But when a game extends beyond two overtimes, there is concern about having players competing for that extended amount of time.

“No one wants the game to end in a tie,” Shaw said. “But after 60 minutes and two overtimes, that seems to be the magic number where everyone seems to think the game should be coming to a conclusion.”

The committee could consider having teams run 2-point conversion plays in the first or second overtime. Another concept that could be discussed is when a game enters the third overtime, rather than start the drive at the 25-yard line, let both teams run one play from the 2-yard line. This could bring a quicker end to the game and reduce the number of plays from scrimmage.