The powers that govern football have made great strides in implementing rules to protect football players. They failed to do that in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday.
Football is a violent game. There will be injuries. It’s an unavoidable, unfortunate facet of the game. In recent years rules officials, led in the SEC by Steve Shaw, have put an emphasis on player safety.
In July, speaking at SEC Media Days, Shaw explained new rules going into effect this season. Part of the new rules was the ability to review plays that could be deemed targeting.
On Saturday Gator running back Dameon Pierce was seemingly knocked unconscious by a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit that was clearly targeting by the letter of the rule. It didn’t appear to be intentional or malicious on K.J. Britt’s part, but intentions aren’t included in the rule. Britt lowered and led with his helmet. The crown of his helmet collided with the side of Pierce’s helmet and incapacitated the running back. (Video below)
Prior to the 2019 season, the NCAA added to its targeting rule allowing for official replay to confirm targeting calls. Unfortunately for Florida targeting wasn’t called on this play so it was never reviewed. According to Dan Mullen, as it has been explained to him, it’s something the SEC rules officials can look at.
“It’s a reviewable play. They can review it,” Mullen said on Monday. “So I thought we could challenge it since it’s a reviewable play but it’s not. We can’t challenge it. They could choose to review it – the officials – but we can’t challenge it.”
The play resulted in a turnover, which triggered a commercial. That gave officials almost three minutes to review the play. When the game came back from commercial Dan Mullen, after pleading his case during the break, he called an additional timeout and tried to challenge the play. After a short conference, it was determined by the officials that Mullen couldn’t use one of his coach’s challenges.
“I haven’t gotten any reasons from the league on all that stuff yet,” Mullen said when asked why. “They usually get it back. A big question for Steve Shaw.”
Gator Country called and left two messages for Shaw but did not receive a call back when asking for an explanation into the process.
College football games can run long — Florida and Auburn took over three and a half hours to complete. There are a lot of stops in the games and sometimes fans complain when too many plays are reviewed.
However, if the NCAA and the SEC truly care about player safety there has to be a system in place to better protect the players when plays like what happened on Saturday happen.
“It’s more a debate of ‘I think those plays we want to try to get out of the game.’ Plays where guys have a significant opportunity to get injured,” Mullen said. “Those are the plays, helmet-to-helmet hits, plays where players have a great chance of being injured we want to get out of the game.”