Changes to targeting penalty and video reviews among NCAA rule proposals for 2020

Allowing players penalized and disqualified to remain on the sideline and placing a time limit on replay reviews are among the changes proposed Friday by the NCAA Football Rules Committee, with the suggestions now sent to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel for possible approval in time for the 2020 season.

Since the rule was established in 2013, players who were flagged for targeting — defined by the NCAA as forcible contact with the crown of the helmet or forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent — were expelled from the field of play and rsent to the locker room.

Under the new proposal, players who draw a targeting foul will still be ejected, should the initial ruling be upheld on review, but will be allowed to remain in the team area. Players will be removed to the locker room in the case of other fouls, such as fighting or unsportsmanlike conduct.

Utah defensive lineman Semisi Lauaki tackles Idaho State quarterback Matt Struck during the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Lauki was called for targeting on the play. (Photo: Rob Gray, USA TODAY Sports)

"For the coaches, that was a very important part and change," said Steve Shaw, the NCAA's national coordinator of officials.

The NCAA will uphold the current rule for progressive targeting fouls, which states that players who commit three such penalties in the same season are subject to a one-game suspension.

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Another three rules were proposed by the Football Rules Committee. One which was considered by not tweaked was the standing rules regarding kickoff, which has seen two changes in the past two seasons: one to allow a fair-catch call between the goal line and the 25-yard line to result in a touchback and the other to remove the two-player wedge from the kickoff play.

The committee recommended that no more than two players on the same team can wear an identical number. Currently, the rule states that players wearing the same number must play different positions and cannot be on the field at the same time.

In addition, the committee recommended that the number zero be added as a legal uniform number to "respond to the popularity of single-digit numbers."

"We do recognize that there’s this excitement and desire for student-athletes to wear a single-digit number," said Steve Shaw. "We anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of excitement for who’s going to be the first player to wear zero at their institution."

Said Stanford coach David Shaw, the committee chair, "I think the coaches will appreciate it as well. Many of us across the country have different ways of determining who wears which jersey number."

In another proposal, the committee recommended that referee's "jurisdiction of the contest" will begin 90 minutes before kickoff rather than the current rule of one hour. Included in that proposal is the recommendation that coaches be on the field during pregame drills and that all players should be identified by number.

The most recent example of a pregame scuffle between two teams occurred during this past winter's Belk Bowl, which saw players from Kentucky and Virginia Tech fight on the field before the Wildcats' eventual win. No players were ejected since the brouhaha occurred outside of the 60-minute window under the officials' purview.

"Some of these pregame shenanigans that have gone on, we want to curtail those," David Shaw said.

And in an effort to increase the pace of play, which has become an annual topic of conversation, the committee proposed installing a two-minute cap on all video reviews. 

"We recognize across the board that we need to get more efficient and honestly just better on instant replay," said Steve Shaw, who added that if referees cannot come to a conclusion within those two minutes, “it’s time to let (the play) stand.”

While no changes were proposed, the committee had a "robust conversation," Steve Shaw said, on how to address feigned injuries used to slow down high-tempo offenses. While difficult, if not impossible, to accurately pinpoint, these feigned injuries can allow a defense to catch its breath and slow down the pace of a no-huddle scheme.

The committee looked at alternatives to the current rule regarding injuries, which require that the injured player leave the field of play for at least one snap, including extending the length of time the player had to remain on the sideline to as many as four plays. Instead, Steve Shaw said, the committee will "put this back into the coach's hands" with the expectation of seeing improvement on the issue in 2020, and "will take action if we don’t."

Said David Shaw, "I think it is evident enough for us to have a conversation about it. For us as coaches, it’s a tactic that lacks integrity. As coaches, we shouldn’t have our guys doing things that are without integrity."

The proposals are now sent for possible approval to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to meet on April 16.

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