HUNTINGTON — The NCAA announced some rule changes Monday for the 2019 season that will have a direct impact on play within the course of a football game.
The most notable change occurs with targeting rules. That has been a source of consternation for many coaches, players and fans due to the subjective way it has been called.
Earlier this week, the NCAA moved forward in an effort to take away that subjectivity with more defined protocols regarding a targeting penalty.
Here is a statement from the NCAA’s release on administering targeting penalties:
“Beginning in the fall in games using video review, instant replay officials will be directed to examine all aspects of the play and confirm the targeting foul when all elements of targeting are present. If any element of targeting cannot be confirmed, the replay official will overturn the targeting foul.
“There will not be an option for letting the call on the field ‘stand’ during a targeting review — it must either be confirmed or overturned. Games using the halftime video review procedure will continue to use the current process.”
Targeting has not been a major issue for Marshall’s football program since the rules came into effect. No Thundering Herd players were called for targeting in 2018 and only one each occurred in 2017 and 2016.
In 2017, Marshall safety C.J. Reavis was ejected during the second half of a contest with Miami (Ohio) after it was deemed Reavis targeted a RedHawks receiver in the Herd’s win in Huntington. The call forced Reavis to miss the first half of the Herd’s game the following week against North Carolina State, which led to Malik Gant making his first start for Marshall.
In 2016, Herd safety Kendall Gant was called for targeting on a punt return in the first half of the team’s loss to Louisville, forcing him to miss the rest of the contest.
Under the new rules, both calls likely would have been overturned because not all elements of targeting were present. Reavis’ hit came when he intended to go low on the receiver, who also went low because a throw was off its mark and, upon review, Gant’s would’ve been overturned based on it coming from the side and initially making contact in the shoulder area.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said that putting it in the hands of a replay official and forcing that person to seek all elements necessary for targeting is critical for the players. Holliday also is a big fan of the elimination of “stands as called” in reference to targeting penalties.
“I think it’s good because No. 1, that’s a huge penalty when your guy gets ejected from the game,” Holliday said. “These guys only get 12 games and you hope to get to 13 or 14, but you take a half of a game away and sometimes almost a full game if it happens early in the half. That being said, I think they’ve got to get it right in the booth. It’s all going to come from the booth and it’s all got to be confirmed. Everything that goes into targeting has to be a part of that decision, so I think that’s good.”
That was not the only new rule in effect in regard to targeting after approval from the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel this week. There are also plans in place for repeat targeting offenders to be punished by the NCAA.
Any player who commits three targeting fouls in the same season is subject to a one-game suspension, which is on top of the original penalties levied by the call.
One rules change that Marshall coaches got out in front of came in regard to kickoff returns as the NCAA eliminated the two-man wedge formation. The two-man wedge was a strategy that Holliday and many other programs nationally have utilized to optimize returns in the past. But with player safety being emphasized, the NCAA decided to eliminate the two-man wedge to limit violent collisions on returns.
Holliday, who makes special teams a priority for the Herd, said he and his staff anticipated the move and have been working on different strategies throughout spring, as a result of the change.
“We’ve gone on this spring like we couldn’t do that, so we’ve readjusted some things already,” Holliday said. “Based on our practice this spring, we’re ahead of the game a little bit on that rule.”
Other changes implemented this year included tweaks to overtime. If a game reaches a fifth overtime, teams will run alternating 2-point plays instead of starting another drive at the opposing 25-yard line — a change made in an effort to limit the number of scrimmage plays and to speed up a conclusion. There will also be two-minute rest periods after the second and fourth overtimes.
The only other rule change involved the elimination of blind-side blocks with forcible contact. Those now become a 15-yard personal foul penalty and could be subject to targeting review.