Targeting a big topic at SEC gathering

DESTIN, Fla. -- There's more than just schedules and permanent opponents on the docket at the SEC spring meetings here in Destin.

Coaches and athletic directors have spent time discussing the new rule that would allow officials to eject players who target and hit defenseless players above the shoulders. The goal is to get rid of head-to-head hits that seriously endanger players.

The rule, passed by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel in March, calls for immediate ejection for a player whom the head field official deems "targeted" a defenseless player above the shoulders. The official's call is final unless the replay official decides the call was incorrect.

As with the fighting rule, if the foul occurs in the first half of a game, the player will be suspended for the rest of that contest. If it happens in the second half, the player will be suspended for the remainder of the game and the first half of the next one.

"I'm all for it," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

"We have to protect this great game and to act like we should just keep on going and let things go as they go is not the right thing to do," Pinkel added. "We gotta protect kids, and it's a such a great football game -- it's our calling to make sure we make the rule changes to make it safer. I don't think it's going to hurt the quality of the game in any way."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the idea of creating a new rule has been on his mind for some time now. Last year, he suspended two players for controversial above-the-shoulder hits. Controversy also swirled around Alabama defensive end Quinton Dial's nasty hit on a defenseless Aaron Murray in last year's SEC championship game. The hit appeared to be helmet-to-helmet, but no flag was thrown and Dial wasn't suspended for the BCS title game.

An example that likely would have earned an ejection was Florida linebacker Jon Bostic's hit on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first quarter of last season's Sugar Bowl.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said he is happy about the rule, but wants more.

"I want to even take it further, to blocking below the waist," Muschamp said. "You want to talk about player safety, let's talk about ACLs and the injuries that occur with blocking below the waist if you want to continue to talk about player safety."

Slive said league coaches met with the rules committee and Rogers Redding, the national coordinator for college football officials, earlier this year to discuss punishment for blocking below the waist.

"They would like it done right now for the coming season, so we will communicate with Rogers about it," Slive said.

While it's obvious the SEC is looking out for player safety, some coaches are cautious about the new rule.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops believes officials will lean toward protecting players and that the new directive will have a "dramatic impact on the game" whether it's called or not.

"It's gonna be a tough rule for a lot of people," Stoops said. "It's going to affect a lot of people. It's going to affect a lot of defensive players. We all understand the commitment to protect players. It's going to have a dramatic affect on a lot of people.

"We see it and we understand it, but it's going to hurt some teams at times."

Added LSU's Les Miles, "I hope that it's done in a very moderate fashion. Change has to be incremental and not wildly applied. I think it's a great rule. Protecting our players is a great rule, but it's going to be very difficult to administer because if I go to tackle you and I lower myself and you go to defend yourself from being tackled and you lower yourself and we collision at the chest and I come up and hit the head, oh my gosh. Suddenly, I'm targeting."

It'll be interesting to see how coaches approach the rule change, but making sure player safety is more of a priority is a good thing for the sport.