NCAA targeting rule highlights Big Ten media day

BY MATT CABEL | JULY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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CHICAGO — College football is changing. Conferences have been realigned, a playoff system is being implemented, and rules are forever being tweaked, both for the integrity of the game and its players.

Player safety has been a recurring trend in these rule changes. The NCAA’s new targeting rule, which goes into effect for the 2013 season, is one of them. The rule change was an especially a hot topic at Wednesday’s Big Ten media session at the Chicago Hilton.

“Player safety is on everyone’s mind right now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was 30, 35 years ago [too]. It’s respect for the game.”

The rule, which will result in automatic ejection and a 15-yard penalty at the discretion of the referee officiating the game, comes into effect if a player hits too high on his opponent’s chest, uses the crown of his helmet for the hit, or creates helmet-to-helmet contact while tackling.

“There’s a real fine line,” Ferentz said. “It’s really tough to officiate. I’d rank that one right up there with officiating an onside kick. To not use replay in that situation would really be dangerous.”

The topic, which has been highly debated because of its discretionary nature. While plays that merit ejection can be overturned by replay officials with conclusive evidence, the penalty will still be assessed.

“I’ve seen some hits on NFL tapes and college hits that there’s no question that ejection [was] appropriate,” Ferentz said. “But if it’s close to call, it could really affect a game by taking a player out. You’d sure hate to find out five days later that they made a mistake on that one. There’s a lot at stake for everybody — I don’t care if it’s Division I or Division III, there’s a lot at stake when games are going on. That’s a tough one, a really tough one.”

But Iowa linebacker James Morris doesn’t believe that his corps will have to change anything in the way they approach their fundamentals and hits during the upcoming season, noting last year’s Indiana game in which a pair of hits by him and Anthony Hitchens drew a flag and a no-call.

“I don’t think that’s been an issue that we’ve had problems with,” Morris said. “…We’re not guys who try to go out and spear people. We try to hit with our chests, wrap up, and secure the tackle.”

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, who had a player ejected from last year’s matchup against Penn State, said his team has learned from the issue but will still maintain aggressive tackling while following the rules.

“We’re still going to be as aggressive as we possibly can with our schemes and doing the things that are necessary to be successful on defense,” Beckman said. “But the awareness of the fact that targeting is going to be looked at and called more aggressively is something that, again, we have to inform our players and educate our players so that they are not targeting.”

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill also addressed the rule and took a different approach to it, citing what he believes to be the most important aspect of it: keeping his players — and all others — safe.

“We’re all into the safety of the kids and football,” Kill said. “We have a great game. It’s a game that’s physical. We all as coaches have to take our responsibility to make sure that we’re teaching the proper fundamentals. … We want to take care of the players and kids. That’s our job as coaches at all times.”

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