ACC officiating supervisor just casually mentioned he would've ejected Clowney for Michigan hit, which was actually a clean hit. Good lord.— Heath Cline (@heathradio) July 22, 2013
Among this year's new college football rules, the most controversial is the one that requires officials to eject players for targeting an opponent's head during a hit. Everyone agrees more must be done to protect players against brain injury, but few can agree on exactly what such a hit looks like in all cases.
At both SEC and ACC media days, conference officiating representatives have tried to explain the range of plays that would lead to ejection, citing a range of video evidence and answering questions. The hit referenced by ACC officiating coordinator Doug Rhoads is one you might've heard of:
Clowney attacked from about as low an angle as a 6'6 man could possibly use, striking Vincent Smith around the upper chest. That Smith's helmet popped off both made the hit look even more explosive and increased the chance of injury. However, Clowney leads with the crown of his helmet, not just facemask.
SB Nation's Steven Godfrey, who's at Big 12 Media Days alongside Fox Sports' noted officiating guru, Mike Pereira, says Pereira told him he would've tossed Clowney as well, due to his leading with his crown.
Pereira's quotes while watching the play with Godfrey:
"When you look at the play by the NFL rules of the runner vs. the tackler, I think it would be [an ejection]. That's where the danger lies. You take what's perceived to be a great play and it turns into a penalty and an ejection."
"Remember that the only thing that has changed in the rule in college is that the penalty now carries an ejection with it. The rule itself has not changed. The NFL added verbiage about the runner and tackler, but not in college. It was already addressed in the college rule."
Godfrey: Do you expect to see targeting called more often?
"That's the thing. I would've initially said maybe no. Officials might subconsciously think well if I throw it he's automatically ejected and I'm not sure about it. But each conference has talked to their officials and the philsophy is when in doubt, throw."
"They're trying to change the philosophy, and I'm OK with that to a degree, but it gets dangerous when you start talking about automatic ejections. Very marginal hits are going to lead to ejections that not only affect that game but the following game."
[Pereira watches the hit.]
"There's actually another issue here regarding when the helmet comes off. Because when the helmet comes off, that indicates the end of the play. Does he have possession before the helmet comes off? It would've been a fiasco."
[He sighs and frowns watching replays.]
"Remember what you're dealing with in targeting. It's the crown of the head. Not simply the helmet, but the crown of your head [points to top of his head]. Not the forehead. You're looking for a guy hitting who is looking at the ground."
[Still can't make up his mind. Looks at frozen frame.]
"If I'm an official, based on 'when in doubt,' he's out. He's ejected. And when that goes to replay there's no way they overturn it. There's a great potential that hit causes an ejection this year."
Whether officials from other conferences would agree with Rhoads or not, a rule nobody knows quite how to take just got a little bit more confusing.