SEC coaches debate targeting rule

Several SEC coaches were riled Tuesday upon hearing comments from ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads that he would have penalized South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney for targeting on his now-famous hit in the Outback Bowl last season.

Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating, also agreed there was a "great chance" Clowney's hit would have resulted in an ejection in 2013 under the new targeting rules.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier begged to differ.

"Our head of officials, Steve Shaw, told us it was a clean hit because he hit him in the chest and sort of ricocheted up and knocked his helmet off," Spurrier said. "I think what they're trying to prevent, and I agree, is when a player launches himself helmet to helmet into a guy. But that wasn't the case with Jadeveon's hit."

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was even more taken aback that any official would view Clowney's hit as illegal.

"I'm part of the rules committee, and they showed that hit, and everybody agreed it was a clean hit," Bielema said. "So if that guy [Rhoads] is officiating one of our games, hopefully he's going to be reprimanded before then."

The fear among coaches is that the targeting rule is too subjective and that there's too much gray area, although they support the intent of the rule, which is to protect defenseless players and improve player safety.

"I dislike it only because of the judgmental power they're giving the referees," Spurrier said. "I know when that celebration rule came in, every time a Florida player did anything halfway with his hands up in the air, we got a penalty, and sometimes other guys would do the same thing and not get anything.

"This is going to be a judgmental penalty, too, and you've just got to hope and believe the referees will look at it closely before they kick out any player."

Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson said they spent a lot of time in the offseason trying to be sure everybody is on the same page in terms of what is and what isn't targeting, although coaches in the SEC think it will still be a learn-as-you-go process.

"There are four types of plays that are probably going to encompass about 98 percent of the targeting actions you're going to see on the field, and that's what we're going to focus on with officials," Anderson said.

Anderson said four main high-risk actions likely will result in targeting penalties:

Launch: When a player leaves his feet.
Thrust: When a player hits upward with his helmet.
Strike: Striking the head and neck area and crown of the helmet.
Leading: Leading with the top of the helmet.

All four actions are the high-risk indicators officials will be looking for during games this fall.

One key distinction Anderson made was to say intent will be taken into account. If a receiver or ball carrier has the ball and ducks his head right before contact, resulting head-to-head contact is not supposed to be called a targeting penalty because the defender's intent was not to hit the player high.

Florida's Will Muschamp would like to see the conference commissioners make any decision involving a player's ejection.

"I'm all for player safety, but to make that decision in front of 90,000 people and being told going into the season to err on throwing the flag or ejecting a player ... I don't think that's good for college football," Muschamp said. "It ought to be no different than what they do in the NFL when commissioner [Roger] Goodell sits down with his people on Monday morning in a very calm environment, and they watch the tape and make a decision on whether they want to fine the player.

"In our league, the decision ought to be up to the commissioner, and he makes the decision on whether the player will be allowed to play the next game."

Kentucky's Mark Stoops said the most difficult part would be properly teaching his players to avoid targeting penalties, especially in situations in which the offensive player lowers his head.

"I'm very hesitant to teach my players to go down low," Stoops said. "I don't want to teach my players to go down and hurt themselves or hurt another player's knees. I don't believe in that. I'm still searching for the proper way to effectively teach our players to not get ejected and to still play physical and not hurt anybody."

That said, Stoops said he was 100 percent for cracking down on the blatant helmet-to-helmet hits.

"I'm just afraid we're going to be caught in some vulnerable positions, so it may create more injury," Stoops said.

Anderson pointed out that the ejection part of the targeting penalty was reviewable but that the 15-yard penalty would stand even if the ejection was reversed.

"When the rule first got proposed in January, it was just going to be a DQ, end of story," Anderson said. "We were one of the conferences that lobbied to say, look, that gives us no recourse on something that is incorrect. So the great compromise was that if you got replay, rules committee says we'll allow you to use replay to remove the DQ, but we're not going to get into picking up flags."