October 31, 2013 10:10:26 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- At least in the Southeastern Conference, the targeting rule has turned into a he said, he said argument between officials and coaches about what they wanted.
The conference officials say this is part of the changes to the game the coaches and administrators wanted. The coaches are now watching critical players getting ejected or 15-yard penalties because of the new foul and wondering what exactly they were thinking.
"Anytime in practice, anything that would have been close, we show that as a team," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "You can take it overboard and say, 'Everybody just go low and target the knees every time'. We don't make that much of an emphasis of it; we just want to go low, right around the mid-section."
In Football Bowl Subdivision this season, there have been 52 targeting fouls, 14 of which were made in games involving SEC teams. Of those 14, six of them have been overturned. But according to the rule, the 15-yard penalty remains despite instant replay overturning ejections. That may change, according to Shaw.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive will push to change one key part of the new targeting rules.
SEC head of officials Steve Shaw informed the media during a rare appearance during the league's media teleconference that Slive will urge a change to the automatic, non-reversible 15-yard penalty that comes after a flag for targeting. In the same point, Shaw believed the rule is being enforced properly as intended.
"The rule is working as the rule's makers wanted it to," Shaw said. "The rule was intended to modify player behavior, change how coaches interact with their players and modify their behavior on the field. What may be surprising to you is that the overall targeting fouls are down this year over last year, even with the increased emphasis that we've had."
Shaw also pointed out he has seen proper player reaction to a hit the officials are trying to eliminate from the game.
"We've actually seen player's reaction change on these types (of) hits," Shaw said. "Last year we saw a big hit like this and the player would be chest-bumping and high fiving his teammates. Now it's almost: Uh oh, hands on the helmet, or whatever. So I think the players are getting it."
Shaw also pointed out the change can't happen until after the 2013 season and it will have to be the league head coaches who make the change official. Shaw pointed out that the football rules committee is made up of coaches, which was also his way of pointing out that coaches now complaining about the rule were the ones who instituted it.
"The only people that get a vote on the rules committee are coaches," Shaw said. "Whether I like it or not the rulebook says when in question it's a foul. I've heard the term err on the side of safety. I don't want us to err. I want to make sure we're clear on this call. We can't guess."
The one thing that Shaw and the coaches can agree on is the idea that it's about changing a mindset in the culture of how the game is played.
"What I hope with this is that this gets through to the players, they change behavior," Shaw said. "If you remember a couple years ago, we all had the change with our unsportsmanlike conduct, bringing touchdowns back. Let me tell you, we talked about it a lot. Once we got in the season, it became no big deal. The players changed their behavior. Except for an Australian kicker at LSU, that would have almost gone unnoticed. I hope this makes the same impact. We'll see. But significant change as we lead into the season."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.