College football needs to take a page from the high school playbook, or in this case, rule book.
I watched the national championship game between LSU and Clemson on Monday night like most football fans, I’d bet. Also, like most football fans, I saw something we’ve seen way too much of on the college level.
Clemson’s James Skalski was ejected in the third quarter for targeting after making a tackle on LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Skalski had arguably been Clemson’s best defensive player up to that point and the game couldn’t have been in a more crucial spot with LSU knocking on the door and leading by just three at that point, 28-25.
Skalski wasn’t called for a penalty on the play but upon a video review, making the pill especially hard to swallow for Clemson and its fans. LSU went on to win by 17. How much of that had to do with Skalski’s removal is debatable.
What isn’t debatable is that by the letter of the law, Skalski’s crown-of-the-helmet leading hit is in fact targeting. With the ever-increasing focus on player safety, that penalty has to be called.
But what is also not debatable is the intent of the hit. There was nothing malicious in the hit, more of a timing thing, and that’s what we see all too often at the collegiate level. It happened in the semifinals as Ohio State’s Shaun Wade was tossed after hitting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. That hit was even more questionable and, like Monday’s call against Skalski, served as a major turning point in the game.
At the high school level, the targeting rule was instituted by the National Federation of State High Schools in February of 2014. Like the college game, the call comes with a penalty of 15 yards. But unlike in college, the player guilty of the foul is not ejected. This is also the case in the NFL, where intent is taken into consideration.
But can you imagine seeing a similar situation at your local high school? Clemson and Ohio State and every other Division I football team backs up each position with other Division I athletes. Can you imagine a Class A playoff game, between teams that may only have 20 players on a roster, being turned after a star athlete is tossed for accidentally making contact with his helmet?
Shouldn’t the malice of the hit have some bearing on the call? These types of plays — especially on the high Division I level — happen so fast that asking a player to adjust his body mid-tackle is impossible.
Look, in a sport as violent as football, safety has to be THE top priority. I’m certainly not debating that. The penalty yards and ensuing first down is already a deterrent.
But there has to be some aspect of common sense injected into these games as well. And though colleges are institutes of higher learning, you don’t even need a high school diploma to know that the prep level has this rule right.
We’ll take a week away from the Kenny Earl Barker Memorial Lock of the Week — lord knows we need it — to give you an update on last week’s column.
In this space a week ago, I wrote about the possibility of a Mountain State Athletic Conference vs. Cardinal Conference shootout in boys and girls basketball, and some wheels have started turning.
On Monday, Keith Tyler, who runs the FCA Hoops Classic in December, gave me a ring and said he is interested in holding such an event during his lineup next year.
The Hoops Classic used to include a Big 10-Cardinal showdown, matching some of the best Class AA programs in the northern part of the state against some of the best in the south. It was awesome but, unfortunately, couldn’t sustain itself long term.
But with a potential Cardinal-MSAC battle, travel times would be reduced greatly. Next year’s Hoops Classic is set for Dec. 18 and 19 at West Virginia State University, with Tyler saying that adding a third day on Dec. 17 may be possible if needed.
Since the column ran a week ago, I’ve heard from a couple more coaches throwing support at the idea, and now it’s up to them.
Tyler said that the sooner the better, in terms of hearing from coaches in both leagues as he usually tries to finalize a lineup of games shortly after the boys state tournament concludes in March.
He also asked that I share his contact information, so for basketball coaches in either league reading this, give him a ring at 304-610-5262.
For now, it looks like the proposed event has a home and a time, it’s just up to the teams. Tyler has built it, hopefully they will come.