One of the most popular topics discussed at last week’s Big Ten media days was the NCAA’s new targeting rule, a new zero-tolerance policy that prohibits tacklers from so much as “targeting” defenseless players above the shoulders. Most football people are on board with the basic idea of making the game safer for all parties involved, but Big Ten coaches had different opinions on the severity of the rule, how it should be changed and possible alternatives to address the unavoidable problem of head trauma on big hits.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald offered a unique solution, taken straight from the “football” most Americans aren’t nearly as familiar with as the sport the targeting rule was meant to address. Fitzgerald wants referees to issue yellow cards to first-offense violators and red cards bringing the penalty of ejection for second-time offenders.
“It’s a totally hypothetical,” Fitzgerald told Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer. “I’d rather warn the player, telling him this is not the hit we want in football.”
This is the second year in a row Fitzgerald has offered a unique solution to a pressing football-related issue at his conference’s media days. You may recall Fitzgerald proposed the implementation of a selection committee to select the Big Ten’s conference championship participants as a unique work-around for the divisional imbalance caused by Ohio State and Penn State’s postseason ineligibility. Innovator, he is.
That idea was never going to pass the most basic administrative smell test. This one feels slightly more realistic, although the NCAA would probably like to give its new rule a full year’s evaluation in its one-strike purity before introducing any new concepts.
On its face, the card system makes intuitive sense. It attaches colorful, unmistakable, memorable symbols with the consequences involved for trying to light up opposing receivers, which is the basic objective of the targeting rule in the first place – just without the penalty of immediate ejection. I can already hear the furor: “Soccer’s for girls! We should never use anything from that dumb sport!”
Whatever your opinions on soccer, it’s hard to assail the theoretical, if not practical viability of applying its penalty system to an ongoing issue that stands to threaten the current incarnation of American football as we know it. Head injuries are a serious problem, and if a soccer-style system is the best solution, perhaps it’s something the NCAA (and the NFL, for that matter) ought to consider.