Column: Finally, a punishment that fits the crime
Ejecting players on the spot for using their helmets to target opponents in college football is such a sensible idea that it's hard to believe the NCAA proposed it first.
The organization, after all, has never been a factory of innovation. It practically defines the term "leading from behind," especially so on matters of safety, where it usually waits for the bigger, deeper-pocketed pro sports leagues to do the heavy lifting and eventually falls in line. Besides, the NCAA has been so busy lately defending itself from lawsuits and questionable tactics — most recently after admitting it compromised its own investigation into University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro — that most of us doubted it could squeeze out the time to even think about aiding anyone else.
But let's give credit where it's due. The new rule proposed by NCAA's Football Rules Committee cleared an important hurdle Wednesday and now awaits only final approval next month before being enforced during the 2013 season. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who serves as chairman, said there were 99 so-called "targeting" penalties called by officials in major-college games alone last season that would have justified an ejection as well. And the 15-yard penalty on the books seemed even more inadequate since most of those hits, not coincidentally, also left most of their targets concussed or injured badly enough to miss significant playing time.
"Ultimately, our goal is zero. Is that realistic? I don't know if zero is," Calhoun acknowledged. "But I know any time you involve an ejection, we're going to see that number go down drastically immediately."
That last point was not lost on the college coaches. The few who reacted initially preferred the current NFL model, where a penalty is imposed on the field without the player being ejected, leaving the question of a suspension or fine to an impartial panel that reviews a video of the hit days later. Putting aside the question of where a college player would scrounge up enough to pay a fine — boosters? — the real-world distinction between the two models makes the NCAA version far superior for the college game, not to mention the kind of innovation that the NFL should consider stealing if it's serious about cutting down on head-hunting.
Pro football players have iron-clad contracts and a combative-when-it-wants-to-be players union to deal with the fallout, whether they're the aggressor or the target. College players have health insurance, in addition to tuition, room and board costs that come with a scholarship, but not much else to fall back on. That's because the NCAA, which basically invented the term "student-athlete" in order to avoid players' compensation claims, values the facade of amateurism above all else.
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