Greeson: NCAA fixes one folly, creates another

Greeson: NCAA fixes one folly, creates another

February 14th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

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Amid the Snowmageddon and the college hoops craziness and Derek Jeter and Michael Sam and even Richie Incognito being everything other than incognito on Twitter, the news Wednesday evening that the NCAA announced a couple of proposed college football rule changes almost escaped the sports spotlight.

First, the powers over college football have rightly reversed field on the details of the controversial targeting rule that plagued the game this past season. The targeting rule was designed to enhance player safety, and that's a good thing. In its first season, targeting was called when a defensive player hit a defenseless offensive player around the head and shoulders. The penalty was 15 yards and the offender was ejected.

The call, which is as bang-bang as it gets and is as difficult a split-second decision as there is in football this side of fumble/runner down, was automatically reviewed. If the review showed the play not to be as malicious or in the area of the head as originally viewed, then the defender was reinstated to the game -- in essence admitting it should not be a penalty, but the 15-yard infraction still applied.

In today's society it was the half-hearted apology of, "I'm sorry you got offended," without actually admitting fault.

The NCAA rightly has admitted that if the officials are going to review a call, then the review should be all or nothing. If the targeting call is deemed to be faulty, the player will be reinstated and the flag will be picked up. Sure, this move is about three months too late to help the Georgia Bulldogs and Ramik Wilson, who was called for targeting on fourth-and-4 on what turned out to be Vanderbilt's game-winning drive.

This rule tweak makes complete sense and should have been part of the original idea. Still, admitting a mistake and adjusting it can be difficult, so good for the NCAA. That said, this will be the first time a penalty call -- a judgment call, mind you -- is completely reversible. So how long before other penalties will be subject to review?

Are we taking another step to a computerized officiating crew? It's certainly possible, since the more technology you introduce the more you can expect to hear calls for more. That's the modern circle of life and improvement.

The other rule change seems somewhat peculiar and will be fought tooth-and-nail every step of the way.

The NCAA is proposing that defenses be allowed expanded chances to substitute players in the first 10 seconds of the play clock and that if an offense snaps the ball with more than 29 seconds showing on the 40-second play clock, the offense will be charged with a delay-of-game penalty.

Say what? A delay-of-game penalty for moving quickly? Say that again? Did they figure because they fixed one flawed rule by correcting targeting that they needed another nonsensical option out there, so they could correct something a year from now?

The old-school, plodding -- some would say puzzled -- defensive-minded coaches who loathe the hurry-up attacks made the silly claim that fast-paced football was not safe for defensive players.

Never mind the fact that there has been zero published material or study suggesting that more offensive plays mean more injuries. It's football, though, so there's a pretty good chance there are safety concerns, because it's not all that safe for anyone, really. And if we're going to make rules completely goals for safety, well, then blitzing is pretty dangerous. So is blocking. And tackling. Maybe the players should walk through the tunnel and onto the field so no one turns an ankle.

This is ridiculous and wrong. This was sprung on coaches out of left field -- several who were asked about it when the rule became public said this was never mentioned at the coaches' or conferences winter meetings. To make matters worse, the two coaches on the rules committee ranked in the bottom third of plays run last season, meaning they have a vested interest in slowing opposing offenses. What's next? Banning the forward pass because Troy Calhoun and Air Force want to run it 60 times a game?

This would be the first rule we can remember that would be directly attacking a style of offense, meaning that if rule adjusters decide that one style is tough to stop or is better or different or what have you, then they can tinker with the regulations to make them fit into their model.

That's not about safety. That's about self-preservation.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273. You can follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp and listen to "Press Row" with Jay and TFP sports writer David Paschall 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 105.1 FM or at timesfreepress.com.