College football players face new penalties this season for “targeting,” the practice of hitting another player above the shoulders with the crown of the helmet. But players in the Southern Conference face even stiffer penalties, thanks to a years-old league policy that is under attack from SoCon football coaches.
The new NCAA penalties call for players to be ejected from the game if they are flagged for targeting. Last season, the call resulted only in a 15-yard penalty. This season, a first-half targeting penalty means the player is ejected for the rest of the game. A penalty in the second half of a game means the player is out for the rest of that game and the first half of the next game.
But the SoCon has a policy, apparently alone among FCS leagues, that would suspend players for an extra game if they are flagged for targeting. The SoCon rule, in place for some 20 years, calls for a player disqualified from a game in any sport to also be suspended for the next game.
That means that a SoCon player whistled for targeting in the first half of a game will be ejected for the rest of that game and suspended for the next one. A second-half penalty means a player will miss the remainder of that game and the entirety of the next game, instead of just the first half.
Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins said league coaches are concerned about the potential effects of the policy.
“The rule makes a lot of sense for players who are ejected for fighting or unsportsmanlike conduct,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense for the Southern Conference to have a rule that’s different from the NCAA rule for targeting.
“You could target and have bad technique cause that, and you are out for an additional game? That’s opposed to fighting, where it makes sense because a player makes a conscious decision to do something illegal.”
Higgins said SoCon coaches discussed the issue in league meetings, and that he has asked Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby to take it up with SoCon commissioner John Iamarino.
“We’ve had conference meetings where this came up, and we thought it would be addressed,” Higgins said. “Hopefully, our commissioner will look at that and put us in the same boat with everybody else.”
Higgins also pointed out that “targeting” is a judgment call, as was demonstrated by the preseason confusion over whether South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney’s famous hit from last year’s Outback Bowl would result in ejection under the new rules.
But Iamarino said the issue was discussed Tuesday during a conference call with league athletic directors, and there was no consensus to change the SoCon’s policy.
“We have had some concern expressed,” Iamarino said. “The conference ejection/suspension policy has been in place for almost 20 years. And each time it’s been reviewed or reconsidered, our administrators have said, ‘This is the way we want it. We want sportsmanship to be a high priority and want to leave the rule alone.’ There’s been no change in philosophy among the presidents and administrators.”
Because instant replay isn’t available at the FCS level, there will be a review process in place for targeting penalties this season. Targeting calls that are overturned will not result in suspension by the SoCon; calls that are upheld will result in suspension, Iamarino said.
Iamarino also said there were no targeting penalties called in SoCon games last season.
The SoCon also has decided that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be listed at the bottom of league standings this season, each with an asterisk noting they are ineligible for the league title. App State and GSU are ramping up their scholarships levels for next year’s move to FBS and the Sun Belt, and will have more than the FCS limit of 63 scholarships this season. That makes them ineligible for the FCS playoffs and the SoCon title.