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NCAA proposes rule changes for targeting, defensive substitutions

By Tom Fornelli | College Football Writer

A proposed rule change would alter the way targeting is enforced
A proposed rule change would alter the way targeting is enforced. (USATSI)

Proposed rule changes regarding defensive substitutions and targeting have been surfaced by the NCAA Football Rules Committee, with one proposed change igniting significantly more controversy than the other.

The committee has recommended a change that will allow defenses to substitute players within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, though not in the final two minutes of a half. Should an offense snap the ball before the play clock reaches 29 seconds, the offense will be called for a 5-yard delay of game.

“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who also chairs the Rule Committee. “As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”

In other words, the hurry up offenses that have spread throughout the game at places like Oregon and Baylor won't be able to move as quickly.

Rules committee member Todd Berry from Louisiana-Monroe told CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman the clock proposal took up much of the past two days of discussion in Indianapolis.

"On offense you can always have a tired player throw up his hand and sub out, but on defense the only way is if you call timeout. This is about player safety. I had a player, an asthmatic kid, I couldn't get the kid out. We didn't have any timeouts."

Berry said the player didn't get injured and they were able to get him out of the game after an incomplete pass.

"We tried to balance the safety issue and making sure you can play the game fast. We looked at this and said, 'how many plays were actually snapped earlier than the 29 second mark? Do they have three or four a game?'

"If you're snapping it with 27-28 seconds remaining, you are super fast. But it's that 10 seconds we felt like that gives us what we thought for a tired D-lineman to get off the field. What you don't want is that tired defensive player who is a liability in the game and you can't get him off the field. He's gonna get injured. That's what's driving this thing.

"We all knew that there was gonna be a firestorm created but that's OK. We feel pretty good about it."

The predicted firestorm has indeed ignited.

"It's terrible, and it's terrible in how they've tried to sneak this through," said one head coach. "Nobody knew this was coming. I've read what (NCAA rules committee member) Todd Berry said (to CBS) about the 10 seconds and how it won't make much of a difference, but they're just trying to downplay it publicly because what they're really doing is giving defense a chance now to substitute liberally once the offense gets an advantage.

"This stuff about it's a safety issue is complete BS that they're trying to hide behind. Show us some proof that more guys -- offense and defense -- have been getting hurt. They can't do it because there is no proof."

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham tells CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler the rule change was needless.

"Right now, if the offense subs on third down, (the officials) afford me plenty of time," Graham said. "In our league, they stand over the ball. When you sub, they give you more than enough time. The present rule addresses (defensive concerns). I'm a defensive guy, and the current rule forces you to coach, and communicate with guys faster. It's not like you can't sub. Different strategy is all it is."

"When we change things just to change things, that impedes the integrity of the game. To me this doesn't warrant a rule change. No huddle has brought an exciting brand. This isn't just something that's brewed the last few years. People have been doing it a long time. ... Would a rule change help me as a defensive coach? Yeah, it'd make it easier. But that's not why you should change the rule."

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze doesn't like the rule either, telling Bruce Feldman: "Where is the documented medical evidence that proves that tempo offense puts players at more risk?"

Asked if there was any medical data supporting the proposed rule, Berry said there were some studies and data, but added that people can skew those however they want. "This wasn't about anybody lobbying. This is about common sense."

One coach pointed out that the two FBS coaches on the committee, Berry and AFA's Troy Calhoun, ranked 84th and 106th in plays run in 2013. The AFCA rep who was also in Indy on the discussion was Arkansas' Bret Bielema, whose team was 118th.

Meanwhile, we could also see a change to the way targeting calls are enforced in the 2014 season.

In 2013, the first year of the rule, if a player was called for targeting, there was a 15-yard penalty and the player would be ejected from the game. Officials could then review the play, and after watching the replay, overrule the ejection of the player. No matter what happened, though, the 15-yard penalty would still apply.

Under the proposed rule change, officials could not only negate the ejection, but the 15-yard penalty as well. The 15-yard penalty would stand, however, if it's committed along with another personal foul. For instance, if a defensive player made contact with a quarterback's head during a sack, even if the player is not ejected, the 15 yards would still apply for roughing the passer.

So, essentially, the NCAA proposes to show a little common sense when it comes to targeting next season. It never seemed all that logical that the 15-yard penalty would stand last season after officials reviewed the play and saw they got the call wrong.

All rules proposals need to be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which will discuss the proposed changes on March 6.

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