SEC coordinator calls for re-examination of targeting ejection overturns

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 | 6:13 p.m. CDT
Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington, left, is hit by Florida's Cody Riggs after Washington caught a pass on the first play of the first quarter at the Missouri-Florida game Saturday. Riggs was penalized and ejected on the play for targeting.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference's coordinator of officials Steve Shaw says allowing replay officials to overturn player ejections for targeting and not penalties should be re-examined.

The new rule is, however, cutting down on the potentially dangerous hits, Shaw said Wednesday.

He said there have been 14 targeting flags within the SEC this season, with eight resulting in ejections and six where instant replay officials allowed the player to return to the game. The rule is designed to protect players by stopping defenders from hitting defenseless players above the shoulders or leading with the crown of the helmet on a tackle.

Shaw said officials have thrown flags for targeting 52 times nationally this season and that the numbers are down both in the SEC and overall from last year.

"We've actually seen players' reactions change on these type hits," he said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. "Last year, a lot of times we'd have a big hit, and the player would be chest-bumping and high-fiving his teammates.

"Now, it's almost, 'Uh oh,' hands on the helmet or whatever. So I think the players are getting it. We still have a long way to go."

The SEC had four targeting penalties in last weekend's games, a high for the season. Three resulted in ejections.

Instant replay officials cannot wipe out the 15-yard penalty but can let players return to the game.

"Two were just absolute textbook targeting," said Shaw, who didn't specify which plays he was referring to. "One was a gray area, but clearly by rule it was a targeting foul. Then we had one that was properly overturned. That's probably where we get the most concern.

"Even our commissioner (Mike Slive) has serious reservations about the penalty philosophy around targeting fouls when calls are overturned. Together, we're going to work with the rules committee to revisit the penalty if the disqualification is overturned for targeting."

Florida safety Cody Riggs, Georgia defensive end Ray Drew and South Carolina safety Kadetrix Marcus were all ejected in the first half of games because of targeting. All three teams lost their games.

Replays of the second-quarter play that led to Drew's ejection showed he let up when approaching Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, but did shove him above the shoulders shortly after he delivered a pass. Former NFL head referee Mike Pereira tweeted: "Ejection of Georgia player has to be reversed!!"

After the Vanderbilt game, Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins took issue with not only the calls but the rule as well.

"I think it ruins the game," Jenkins said. "I think it's going to ruin the game of football."

A targeting penalty on fourth down also kept alive a Vanderbilt touchdown drive in the 31-27 victory. Ramik Wilson hit Vandy receiver Jonathan Krause with his shoulder on an incompletion on fourth-and-4. Review kept Wilson in the game, but the penalty stood for a first down.

On Tuesday, Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said he couldn't watch film of the loss to Vanderbilt because of the calls.

"We had the game. In my opinion, we had it won, and the calls were very questionable," Lynch said. "I think it's safe to say it was the wrong call because they reversed it. I think that because of the rule they still get 15 yards really doesn't make sense. It's like committing a crime and pleading guilty for it and not having to go to jail. It doesn't make sense."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Marcus' ejection against Tennessee was the correct call in the 23-21 defeat.

"We didn't argue the call at all. We need to do all we can to make this game safe," Spurrier said.

Shaw said the emphasis with SEC players has been on keeping their heads up to see what they're hitting, hitting lower and wrapping up instead of launching into the air for a hit.

Shaw said launching wasn't as common in games going back to the early 1990s.

"I don't know what's causing it," he said. "I don't know if it's the SportsCenter highlight mentality or the great equipment that we have for helmets that makes you feel like you're indestructible. But it's a relatively new phenomenon.

"I think if we can take that type of play out of the game — and I think that's where the rules makers are — get that launch to the head or those big head hits out of the game, then it'll still be a great game and it will keep the physicality of our game."

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