Ejections possible after defenseless hits in college football this season

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- They are the kind of hits that get airtime on "SportsCenter" and earn players reputations as fearsome defenders.

Next season, they also could be the hits that get a player kicked out of the game.

In March, the NCAA approved a rule change that would add an automatic ejection for any defender flagged for targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders.

"Just coming in to blow that guy up is no longer a part of the game," said Doug Rhoads, the Atlantic Coast Conference's coordinator of football officials, at the league's media days Monday.

Rhoads outlined two different types of hits that would cause a player to be ejected, in addition to the standard 15-yard penalty. The first is any tackle where the defender initiates contact with the top, or "crown," of his helmet. The second is any hit where the defender makes contact with a defenseless player above the shoulders.

Officials automatically will go to video review for any ejection, but must find "indisputable evidence beyond all doubt" that the hit was clean to re-instate an ejected player.

Furthermore, if a player is ejected in the second half of any game, he also must sit out the first half of his team's next game.

While the ACC coaches appreciated the effort to improve player safety, most also were wary of how the new ejection rule would be applied.

"It doesn't concern me that I think we're doing the right thing to try and take care of players," Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. "Having said that, I think that, like everything else, when there's change, it's hard. There's going to be guys ejected, I'm guessing. It's hard sometimes to be exact with that. I'm sure there'll be some really controversial moments through the season."

Miami coach Al Golden said he would be in favor of the league reviewing questionable hits on the day after games and applying any suspensions toward the following week. Instead, Rhoads said the mantra preached to officials this season is, "When in question, it's a foul."

Even upon review, the burden of proof is on finding indisputable evidence that the play was not a penalty. On plays that can come down to a matter of inches or when available video angles may not provide sufficient evidence, that standard can be hard to match.

"These windows for these kids are so small," Golden said. "You work year-round and you only get 12, 14 games and we might take one? To take a game from someone like that, if we make one error, that's one too many."

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora also questioned the unintended consequences of the new rule.

He wondered if, in an effort to avoid ejection, players could start aiming too low and targeting the knees of offensive players.

"I would prefer that [I get hit in the shoulders] as a wide receiver when I played, believe me," said Fedora, who played for Division III Austin College in Texas from 1981-84. "If you actually go through my shoulders and get my head, well then you do. But I don't want you taking my knees out."

Pitt coach Paul Chryst was one of several coaches who said they would make tackling form an extra point of emphasis this fall to avoid any costly ejections in big games. Addazio noted that he would make sure to have officials on hand at as many practices as possible to make sure he and his staff teaches proper technique.

While it might cause some heartburn in the short term, Chryst agreed that player safety ultimately wins out.

"You're wondering and therefore it makes people nervous how it's going to be called or enforced," Chryst said. "But not one hesitation, we all know why and we want that.

"They're more than just a name on the back with a number. You know these kids and care about them."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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