Telling CFB Referees to Eject First, Ask Questions later is Not the Right Policy

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterJune 17, 2013

Nov 5, 2011; Corvallis, OR, USA; Oregon State Beavers cornerback Jordan Poyer (14) is called for leading with his helmet against Stanford Cardinal wide receiver Chris Owusu (81) during the first half at Reser Stadium. Owusu was injured on the play and was taken off the field in an ambulance. Mandatory Credit: Jim Z. Rider-USA TODAY Sports.
Jim Z. Rider-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Solomon at The Birmingham News is working on a five-part series at on the implementation of the new targeting-ejection rule in college football. Sunday, Part 1 debuted revealed an eject-first-and-ask-questions-later policy, an outcome feared at Your Best 11 during the proposal stage of the rules change.

Yes, the flag for targeting and subsequent ejection will be reviewed, and even possibly overturned by replay officials. But as we have seen with other close calls, indisputable evidence is an iffy subject. Essentially, that's trusting a player's ejection to the same "do I have enough proof" ruling as determines calls that already fluster much of the college football world.

Although the rule is about "targeting above the shoulder," what we have seen in practical application is a rule that is focused on three things: How bad a hit looks, whether the recipient of the hit appears injured and whether there was helmet-to-helmet contact.

Big guys on little guys, high-speed contact, players not paying attention to who get walloped; Those all go into the "it looks bad" category and have drawn not only the gasps from the crowd, but flags from officials as well. Under the new policy, those flags go up the booth, where the offending player's fate is determined. 

The same process will take place when players are knocked unconscious, or writhe on the ground in pain following a hit. These acts are, essentially, the continuation of a hit that looks devastating, but that does not make them illegal, necessarily.

Policing those two things out of the game, especially as flags become ejections and force players to sit out, is going to be tough. All eyes are on the officials to make the quick call, and erring on the side of safety because something looks bad or a player gets hurt is not always the right call.

Which brings us to helmet-to-helmet, the least understood part of football. There exists a myth among people that there is a way to stop helmets from colliding on tackles.  The NFL's Roger Goodell has even gone so far as to say he wants to take the "head out of the game."

Using the helmet as a weapon is a football crime. That is how the hitter and the recipient get hurt. Spearing is how players end up paralyzed. Spearing, lowering the head and using the crown to deliver a pseudo-kill shot has no place in football.

Whether players are taught the face-to-chestplate and the rising blow method of tackling, the chest-to-chest running through contact or angle tackling by running through the target and getting the head across, helmets collide. That is football.

The helmet is to protect the heads from colliding. The facemasks are to stop noses from breaking as the players do what they are supposed to do. When shoulders collide, the heads, which are atop of the shoulders, also tend to collide. When players run through contact, they slide from the chest into the face of the opposition. 

And that does not even account for differences in height, or the offensive player crouching down to protect himself, which changes a shoulder or chest target into a head target. Something Les Miles points out in Solomon's article.

College football is moving forward with the policy, but as Miles states, "Change has to be incremental and not wildly applied." Pushing an eject-first, maybe-fix-it-later policy is the polar opposite of moving slowly to institute the change.