SEC to try targeting 15-yard penalty

Updated: October 23, 2013, 4:56 PM ET
By David Ching | ESPN.com

SEC coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw said Wednesday that he and commissioner Mike Slive share concerns about college football's controversial targeting penalties and will work this offseason to adjust the rule.

Specifically, Shaw believes the sport's rules committee should address the 15-yard penalty that remains even after a targeting penalty is overturned by the instant replay official.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Krause, Ramik Wilson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsRamik Wilson's ejection was overturned for Georgia on Saturday but the 15-yard penalty remained, allowing Vanderbilt to keep the ball en route to a key fourth-quarter touchdown. SEC officials want to fix that so that the penalty can be overturned, too.

"I think that's where we probably get the most concerns, and I would tell you even our commissioner has serious concerns about the penalty philosophy around targeting fouls when they're overturned," Shaw said at the end of the conference's weekly coaches teleconference. "So he and I have talked. He's challenged me, and together we're going to work with the rules committee to revisit the penalty if a disqualification is overturned for targeting."

Shaw said there have been 52 targeting calls at the FBS level this season, which is actually down from last season. He believes players are beginning to get the three-pronged message regarding hits to the head and neck area of defenseless opponents: keep your head up when making a tackle, lower your target and wrap up on the hit.

"The rule is working as the rule's makers wanted it to," Shaw said. "As we all know, the game is under attack, and we're getting more and more information about concussions and the impact -- short term, long term -- but there's a lot we still don't know. So the rule was intended to modify player behavior."

However, the new penalties attached to a targeting call have been sources of major controversy. On Saturday, SEC officials threw four flags for targeting, resulting in immediate ejections to Florida's Cody Riggs, South Carolina's Kadetrix Marcus and Georgia's Ray Drew.

SEC I want to make sure we're clear on this call. We can't guess. We can't think it might have been. We've got to see it and know that it's a foul before we put the marker on the ground. ... If we can make some progress on the penalty phase of this, then maybe this thing then kind of comes together and gets our game where we want it.

-- Steve Shaw,
SEC coordinator of football officials

A fourth targeting call -- and ejection -- against Georgia's Ramik Wilson was overturned upon review following his crucial fourth-down pass breakup, but the 15-yard penalty still gave Vanderbilt a first down at the Bulldogs' 15-yard line. Instead of giving the ball back to Georgia with a fourth-quarter turnover on downs, the Commodores used the second chance to score a touchdown that helped them rally for a 31-27 victory.

Of the 52 targeting calls this season, 14 came in SEC games. Replay officials have overturned six of the 14 ejections that accompanied those calls.

Therein lies the difficulty in handling this penalty, Shaw said.

"Whether I like it or not, the rulebook says: When in question, it's a foul. And so I've heard the term, 'Err on the side of safety.' I don't want to err," Shaw said. "I want to make sure we're clear on this call. We can't guess. We can't think it might have been. We've got to see it and know that it's a foul before we put the marker on the ground.

"... If we can make some progress on the penalty phase of this, then maybe this thing then kind of comes together and gets our game where we want it."

Shaw insisted the rule will not be adjusted midseason and that coaches on the NCAA rules committee likely will "wrestle through" changes during the offseason, but that will come with its own new set of sticking points.

For one thing, how much leeway would the committee like to give the official in the replay booth? Replay officials have never handled judgment calls in the past, so revising the targeting rule might mean expanding the replay official's powers.

"Do we want replay to kind of cross over that line to say, 'OK, we're going to overturn the disqualification, but we still think it was roughing the passer?' We've never had them weigh in on judgment around roughing the passer, holding, chop blocks, pass interference. That would be a huge leap within our replay.

"... I think we've got to have some very thorough discussion to make sure that we're not totally officiating from the replay booth."

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