NCAA oversight committee open to changes to targeting rule, overtime

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee would consider changes to both the targeting rule and overtime in college football, committee chairman Shane Lyons said after the group met Tuesday.

Lyons said the committee talked over a host of issues, including transfers, instant replay, recruiting and staff sizes. Though the committee is not ready to make any recommendations after meeting for roughly seven hours to discuss the myriad topics at the forefront of the sport, Lyons said there will be further study on all of them.

Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, talked at length during the meeting about changes the coaches proposed during their own convention earlier this month. The AFCA unanimously supports a model that puts targeting fouls into two separate categories: targeting 1 for hits without malicious intent, and targeting 2 for more egregious hits. Targeting 1 would carry a 15-yard penalty and no ejection or suspension; targeting 2 would result in automatic ejection and possible suspension.

Lyons said the way targeting is called on the field and the way it is reviewed in the replay booth are also up for further discussion and review. The committee recommended further study by the football rules committee and football competition committee during their meeting in February.

"We would consider changes of how it's done from the officiating aspect of it, from the ejection aspect of it, but we think it needs more study," Lyons said. "It was a lengthy discussion. One of the biggest concerns is we don't want to go back and look like we're doing something that's not in the well-being, health and safety of the student-athlete, so if you back off the penalty, is it sending the message that this is OK and this is not?"

Lyons said there was little change in the number of targeting penalties called over the two seasons during which the rule has been in effect. In 817 games during the 2018 season, 275 targeting calls were made, and 96 were overturned. In 816 games in 2017, 266 targeting calls were made, and 87 were overturned.

"We were supportive of a potential refinement, but to come out and say it needs to be this -- we're going to put that in the hands of the so-called experts in the rules committee to take a look at it and see what's best," Lyons said. "The player safety is the most important thing. The numbers haven't changed; our hope is, 'How do you get the numbers to go lower?'"

Berry said he is looking forward to getting even more information from the Sports Science Institute in February as it relates to the player safety issue and is hopeful changes can be made sooner rather than later.

"I didn't think we'd get anywhere right now," Berry said. "It would probably be once we hear back in February, when competition and rules will meet again and then we'll see. It's something we can act upon right now rather than something that has to wait and get in the legislative cycle."

As for the overtime rule, Lyons said that is something the oversight committee wants the rules committee to study further in the wake of the seven-overtime game between LSU and Texas A&M this past season.

Though only a handful of games went beyond a few overtimes during 2018, Lyons said player safety is at the forefront of any possible tweaks to the overtime format, in which both teams get a possession at the 25-yard line and teams must go for two after touchdowns starting in the third overtime. He reiterated any change would rule out allowing games to end in a tie.

"The question is: Are there things we can tweak in the overtime that could possibly shorten the length?" Lyons said. "Do you leave it the same? Do you automatically have to go for two even after your first touchdown for both teams? What are some things to potentially lessen the overtime?"

Among the other topics discussed:

• Lyons said there is no movement to allow student-athletes out of their letters of intent if they sign in December and a head-coaching change is then made. Using this season as an example, he said four schools had coaching changes after the December signing date, and only four student-athletes requested out of their letters of intent. However, there was much discussion about what to do with the growing number of transfers trying to use waivers to become immediately eligible.

"There was some precedence set this last year so consequently everybody's pushing that envelope now so when you start talking about however many thousand-plus that are in the portal, then there's probably going to be a thousand-plus that are going to be seeking a waiver," Berry said.

Lyons said one proposal that was discussed would require all non-grad transfers to sit out their first year, but then allow them to get that year back at the end of their careers.

"We're not going to solve this overnight," Lyons said. "It's a bigger issue that we're going to have to get our arms around but we'll continue studying that and talking about it in our upcoming April meeting."

• Official visits in the spring were added to the calendar two years ago with the start of the early signing date in December. But many coaches have expressed alarm that official visits have now taken over the calendar, even though there are limits to the spring dates when official visits can occur.

"There's concern of now every weekend turns into an official visit as opposed to we allocate three weekends in a particular year," Lyons said. "Legislatively we'll talk about that. We'll gather information from the new recruiting model and take that into the April and June meetings to see if there's anything we want to tweak with the model. All in all, we feel pretty good with the new model. Is there some adjustments that need to be made? Yeah, within the legislation there were unintended consequences so official visits go hand in hand with that."

• The topic of staff sizes and who gets to wear a headset on the sideline is not going away, either.

"Do we feel there were some issues that happened this year?" Lyons said. "Yes. Is it kind of working? Yes. We need to focus on the enforcement aspect of that. We're not willing to give that up yet, but at the same time we understand that's something we're going to have to continue focusing on. Of those 23 headsets, who's on the headsets, and if inappropriate people are on the headsets, how do we enforce that?"

• Instant replay was also a topic, but there was no discussion about expanding reviewable plays. The question is whether collaborative replay in league offices is the best way to do replay, or whether there should be a more centralized system outside the conference offices.