NORMAN — Oklahoma senior running back Brennan Clay voiced strong opposition to the NCAA's strict new rules regarding “targeting” penalties, created to protect players from violent hits to the head and neck.
“It's kind of taking away from the game,” Clay said Saturday. “Football is football; you can't be thinking about where you've gotta hit this guy. Is my head up? You've just gotta make that tackle.”
Clay is an interesting opponent to the rule, considering a hit that might now be penalized sent him to the hospital with a concussion three years ago.
Early in the fourth quarter of a September 2010 home game against Florida State, Clay — then a true freshman — caught a swing pass and made one Seminoles defender miss before safety Nick Moody crouched, then thrusted up at Clay's helmet, knocking him unconscious.
Clay was carried off the field on a stretcher.
According to new NCAA rules, a player penalized for targeting must sit out the rest of the half and the next half; the latter can be the second half of the current game or the first half of the next game.
“I think you've gotta remind your players those shots, when people take somebody's head off, that's old-school football; that's long gone,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “It's not safe. I agree with protecting all the players. I think it's sickening to see a player get hit, hurt that's unprotected. That doesn't take much bravery.”
Coaches can challenge the targeting penalty, but even if the replay official rules in the defender's favor and he isn't ejected, the 15-yard penalty stands.
“I think that's a little harsh,” Clay said. “I think it should just be a 15-yarder. ... If you do it twice, that should be an ejection.”
At all levels of football, concussions and head injuries have become a major topic of conversation in recent years.
Rutgers defender Eric LeGrand became paralyzed after making a tackle on kickoff coverage in a 2010 game against Army.
More than 4,200 former NFL players have sued the league over head injuries. Last month, a federal judge ordered attorneys from both sides of the litigation to go through mediation toward a possible settlement.
“We need to have prevention reflected in the rules,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowslby said at the conference's media days last month. “This is certainly not an attempt to, as some hosts said, sissify college football.
“We need to make sure that it's a game you can play safely and not compromise the rest of your life in the process of excellence.”
Stoops said the key will be coaching players to tackle properly while maintaining the physical, tough nature of playing defense.
“We want to be physical and violent and all that, but to me, when some guy is running down the middle of the field with his head looking at the ball and you hit them, that's like me taking a sucker punch on some guy in the bar that isn't even looking,” Stoops said.
For Clay's part, he said he understands the rules are only there to protect the players.
“That's for our best interest,” Clay said. “But it is what it is. It's football. You can't take that away from it. But if they wanna tack on 15 yards, that's gonna be our advantage, so I'll take it.”