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NCAA changes tackle rules to prevent player injury

By Sara Patrick
On September 24, 2013

The National Collegiate Athletic Association recently released changes to past safety rules regarding targeting and initiating contact with the crown of the helmet (Rule 9-1-3) or with the head or neck area of a defenseless player (Rule 9-1-4) for NCAA college football officiating. These NCAA rule changes have not changed the fouls from 2012, but have called for an increased penalty for any player who breaks the rules.
According to the NCAA's definitions, targeting is taking aim at an opponent with an apparent intent that goes beyond a legal tackle or block or playing of the ball, and a defenseless player is any player who is not in a position to defend himself.
"It's always been a thought that the special team plays- the kick-off, the punt return- are the most violent and out of control plays in all of football," said John Erwin, assistant AD for sports medicine. "Then when you talk about players who are star players being hunted down, essentially this targeting rule is trying to get rid of that. It's trying to decrease injuries. It's trying to protect the players that are going to be the more valuable during game time from concussion."
So far, no flags have been thrown since the new targeting rules came into effect this season, but head coach Ron Roberts said there have been moments where referees could have thrown a flag and called for a penalty. His only concern toward the rule change is the pressure it puts on referees to make calls quickly and correctly.
"It's designed to help the players, to keep them safe," said Roberts. "I think it's a good rule. The only problem is it puts a lot of pressure on the officials to call those things in a split second,whether he hit him in the chest or in the neck or in the chin. It's a lot of pressure on them if you don't have instant replay to be able to recall it back right away to make sure you get it right."
If a play is in question, it is considered a foul. In the case of Rules 9-1-3 and 9-1-4, the increased penalty for each foul is the player in question's ejection from the game as well as a 15-yard penalty for his team.
"Even just saying there's the opportunity you could get ejected from the game is going to make a lot of players not take shots that they might have normally took," said Roberts. "You're talking about ejecting a player. That's a pretty big move. Especially if you eject a starting safety or a starting receiver on a crack back or something like that, it's definitely going to effect the ball game."
The NCAA states that instant replay may be used to review the type of contact made, and if the video clearly shows contact was not with the crown of the helmet, or with the head/neck area, a targeting foul may be downgraded to unnecessary roughness.
Erwin reiterated how football is a contact sport and therefore a wide variety of injuries can occur during a game. He gave the example of another rule change for the sake of safety in the sport: the horse collar tackle, which was acceptable up until 2008 when the NCAA followed the NFL's example and banned the tackle.
"These new targeting rules are essentially trying to make the game safer for players; not just now but later in their careers," said Erwin. "There's always going to be injury. There's always going to be something for us as athletic trainers to do. As long as there's sports, there's going to be injuries. To say that it's going to cut down [on injuries], time will tell."  
Roberts said he hopes to see these new targeting rules cause a decrease in targeting and a decrease in injuries to his players.
"I think it's a good rule," said Roberts. "I think anything we do for protecting the players is good. It's just, again, making sure we're getting it right is the tough part. You don't want to penalize a kid who didn't do it. I understand we want to penalize all the ones that do cause infraction, but it's the innocent kid that I'm worried about being penalized."
Junior wide receiver for the Lions football team Chris Malott feels safer with the change in targeting rules, but thinks it will be difficult to enforce this change on a generation that is used to going for the tackle.
"I feel safer, but at the same time I think it takes away from the game," said Malott. "Football is a violent sport, and they're basically taking the hard hitting out of it which is fun to watch. I do believe players are less likely to maliciously target me because they will not want to take a 15 yard penalty as well as a full game's suspension. At the end of the day though, people have been playing the game a certain way their whole lives and have always taken a shot on a defenseless player going up for a ball or not looking to keep them from catching or holding onto the ball. It's turning football into an offense-oriented game now."
For additional information on the rule changes and increased penalties, go to www.ncaa.org.
 


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