Dear College Football Officials:
We are begging you. We, the college football fans of America, are down on one knee with our hands clasped in fervent supplication. We beseech you, officials: Do not take this away from us:
We have resorted to begging because two of your number (broadly speaking) said Monday that taking "The Hit" away from us is exactly what they would do. Per radio host Heath Cline, ACC officiating supervisor Doug Rhoads "casually mentioned" during a Q&A at ACC media days that he would have flagged Clowney for "targeting" -- which in 2013 would result in an automatic ejection.
At Big 12 media days, SBNation.com's Steven Godfrey asked Fox Sports officiating guru and one-time Pac-12 officiating consultant Mike Pereira how he would have officiated the play. His response:
"[E]ach conference has talked to their officials and the philsophy is when in doubt, throw ...&
"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."
[Pereira still can't make up his mind. Looks at frozen frame.]
"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 they overturn it. There's a great potential that hit causes an ejection this year."
Listen, College Football Officials: We understand you and the NCAA powers-that-be are aiming for better player safety, particularly safety regarding head injuries. And we understand now is a critical time for the sport's future where those head injuries are concerned, and that as college football fans, we also need to understand that if the sport doesn't take the right steps in this area, it's not completely outrageous to say it might be forced to change in ways that would make it a completely different sport.
But in the sport we know -- the college football we love so much -- Clowney's hit on Vincent Smith is just not an ejectable offense. We can acknowlegde the crown of his head is lowered (though as Godfrey points out, this may be the awkward natural outcome of a very tall individual trying to lead with his facemask in tackling a much, much shorter individual). If you must penalize Clowney 15 yards for that, then you must.
But throwing Clowney out of the game (and, in the regular season, forcing him to face a suspension) for an instinctive "decision" made in the splittest of split-seconds is, simply, unfair. It's not fair to him. It's not fair to his team. It's not fair to the fans. Whatever else can be said about this play, surely, Officials, we can agree on this: it is not dirty.
This is what we're begging of you, Officials: that you draw a line between dirty, reckless play on one side and improper, dangerous tackling technique on the other. And because the NCAA in its not-quite-infinite wisdom has dissolved that line entirely where ejections are concerned, that you walk it carefully. And that whatever is said publicly, we ask that you give the benefit of the doubt to players who are not trying to hurt other players; we ask that, whenever possible, you keep those players on the field.
Because, man, have you seen Jadeveon Clowney? Have you seen that hit up there? Man.
Sincerely, College Football Fans