The Big Ten was largely immune to the new NCAA targeting rules until two weeks ago. Then Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste was ejected for a hit on Purdue's Dalyn Dawkins in Week 7. Last Saturday, Ohio State's Bradley Roby was tossed for a first-quarter tackle attempt on Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Predictably, neither Nebraska nor Ohio State enjoyed seeing one of its star defenders forcibly removed from the game. Both Bo Pelini and Urban Meyer publicly questioned the calls made against their players, with Meyer saying the targeting rule needs a second look.
The new rule is designed to protect players' safety, which everyone can get behind. But the implementation of the rule has proven controversial and unpopular. That's why it's time to give Pat Fitzgerald's proposed solution some serious consideration.
The Northwestern coach said it in the summer and reiterated his idea on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference Tuesday when asked about targeting. He thinks the NCAA should borrow a page from soccer and hand out yellow and red cards. A yellow card would be issued for a first offense and serve as a warning, while a red card would mean an ejection.
Fitzgerald says that he hasn't seen any intent to harm in the plays called for targeting fouls and that most of them are "momentary mistakes," often made in open-field tackling situations where a player -- often a defensive back -- is just fighting to make a stop.
Now go back and review the Jean-Baptiste and Roby hits. I thought the call on Jean-Baptiste was more questionable under the rules as written than Roby's, but you could make a case both ways on each hit after watching slow-motion replays from every angle. However, in neither case does there appear to be malicious intent to hurt the ball carrier. In Roby's case, he's a 5-foot-11 cornerback going after a 6-7 tight end.
Wouldn't a yellow card/warning have been sufficient for both Jean-Baptiste and Roby? That would make them think twice about hitting opponents high and reinforce the need for better form tackling. Red cards, meanwhile, could be issued for truly violent and dangerous plays like this one. You'd still be putting the judgment in the officials' hands, but at least they'd have more than one punishment to work with instead of treating every hard collision like a crime. Right now, it seems, officials are erring on the side of player safety whenever a hit is in doubt.
A player who was issued a yellow card would likely become more tentative in the rest of the game, worrying about being thrown out for another foul. But that's a smaller price to pay than having to sit out an entire game (or two halves). The nightmare scenario is for a star player to get ejected on a questionable call in an important game down the stretch this season. Imagine if, for example, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was kicked out of the Big Ten title game for a borderline hit against Ohio State with a Rose Bowl bid on the line. Can you picture the uproar from Mark Dantonio and the entire Spartans fan base?
Normally my eyes glaze over and I look for excuses to leave the room whenever I hear anyone talk about soccer. But this is one idea from that sport that football should think seriously about adopting. It's not a perfect system, but it's better than the one we have now.