No matter where he went, replays of his hit on teammate Dimitri Reese were making the rounds on ESPN and other sports highlight shows. In past years, it might have been cause for kudos. But in light of the NCAA’s increased emphasis on rules toward targeting defenseless players, the hit instead earned Mincy a 15-yard penalty — and more importantly — an ejection from a spring game.
Cue the unwanted attention.
“It was very humbling,” the junior cornerback said Friday. “It was a lot of bad feedback and some people saying it was a good hit. It was more so just humbling in making sure that I don’t react in any way and just take it (the penalty and ejection).”
Though replays later showed Mincy led with his shoulder, the initial call on the field stood.
And from it arose the perfect teaching moment for Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of officials. Calling it “the most significant rule change” in his 21 years as a collegiate official — the last 15 in the SEC — Shaw spent the majority of his allotted time at SEC Media Days on Wednesday discussing the finer points of how the “targeting” penalty will be called going forward. He explained that the “foul itself hasn’t changed.” However, the rule has expanded its definition of what is deemed a “defenseless player,” which in previous years included players such as a receiver coming over the middle of the field or a player well-removed from the action.
The other wrinkle added to the rule is that the enforcement of the targeting foul will mirror those already in place for fighting. Shaw and the NCAA rules committee hope to decrease the amount of hits above the shoulder, believing the best detriment is to take away playing time.
“If you have a targeting foul that’s committed in the first half of a game, then you’re going to be disqualified for that game,” Shaw said. “If you have a targeting foul that’s committed in the second half of a game, you’ll be disqualified for that game plus the first half of the next game.”
Among those considered defenseless players are punters. Punters have always been defenseless players during their punting motions, but according to the new rules, they are defenseless for the rest of the down. A popular trend among defensive players was taking a free shot at the quarterback after an interception. Now, after the ball changes hands, quarterbacks are defenseless throughout the down after throwing it to the other team. Quarterbacks can still be hit and blocked, but not above the shoulders.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace voiced his opinions on the changes, noting that it won’t affect his style of play going forward.
“We love this game and will give anything to play it,” Wallace said. “We know there are risk factors, but I don’t think any of that will stop us from playing the game we love.”
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney expressed his displeasure with the expanded definition of the rule.
“I don’t really like the new rules at all,” Clowney said. “I’m 6-foot-6. Half the guys I play against are 6-foot-3 or smaller. It’s going to be tough for me to get low enough to not hit them above the shoulders.”
Clowney shrugged off the idea that some offensive players would purposely throw themselves in his direction in a cheap attempt to have him ejected from a game.
“It doesn’t change anything for me. I’m going to continue to play hard and not worry about getting ejected,” Clowney said. “I’m going out there to play my game like I’ve been playing.”
The NFL began fining players for leading with their helmets and targeting defenseless players after studies began showing that multiple concussions and brain trauma can cause long-term brain damage.
The issues have trickled down to college football, with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive writing NCAA President Mark Emmert to speak on the behalf of the league’s presidents and chancellors. Slive said his intentions were to “communicate our view that it was important and necessary in the area of concussions for the NCAA to lead, organize and spearhead a four-part national effort.”
“One, to conduct further scientific research on concussions,” Slive said. “Two, determine and refine best practices and standards of care for the prevention and treatment of concussions. Three, disseminate information to NCAA member institutions and others with an interest in the health and safety of athletes. And, four, continue to review and revise playing rules in football and other sports as new research and new information on concussions becomes available as we revise and refine best practices.”
Just don’t expect players to give the issue a second thought.
Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry was asked three consecutive questions about concussions at SEC Media Days. Had he ever talked about concussions with anyone? Had he ever had one? And finally, was he ever worried about suffering one?
Marry answered “no sir” on all three counts.
“You know the risks when you start playing the game,” the senior said Wednesday. “You’ve just got to play, and then when something happens, you got to report it to the trainer. That’s what you’re supposed to do, and if you do that, then it should limit the chance of you having a serious injury.”
At its core, the rule changes are all about safety. But as Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith pointed out — and Clowney would no doubt agree — that doesn’t mean the rule is fair for everyone. Defenders will be at a decided disadvantage since they won’t be able to play as fast as their offensive counterparts. Instead, defensive players will have to worry about their next hit possibly leading to an ejection.
Football is dangerous, Smith said. Violent hits are going to happen — that’s just the nature of a game based around collisions on every play.
From this point forward, Smith and others will just have to learn to play within the confines of new guidelines legislating their play.
“Nobody tries to hurt anybody on purpose,” he said. “But I guess the rules are the rules.”