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NCAA committee pushing ejection for targeting defenseless players

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In its ongoing effort to improve the on-field safety of its players, the NCAA Football Rules Committee has taken a rather significant step to further prevent the targeting of defenseless players.

Among a laundry list of new proposals, the committee announced Wednesday that it is pushing forward a rule that, if passed, would “eject players who target and contact defenseless players above the shoulders.”  The penalty for targeting, which was first implemented in 2008, will still be 15 yards, but will also carry a semi-automatic ejection that could bleed into the next game.

If a player is ejected for targeting in the second half, that player would miss both the rest of that game as well as the first half of the next game.  A first-half ejection for targeting would not cost a player playing time the next game.

While the effort to increase player safety will, for the most part, be applauded, there is already concern/consternation over the definition of targeting.  Specifically, there is concern over officials, who are by and large human beings like the rest of us, maintaining some level of consistency as to what targeting actually entails.  The NCAA defines it as follows:

Rule 9-1-3 — No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet.
Rule 9-1-4 — No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder.

In suspending Ole Miss freshman defensive back Trae Elston and South Carolina defensive back D.J. Swearinger in back-to-back weeks last September, the SEC cited those very bylaws from the NCAA’s Football Rule Book.  Swearinger was flagged on the play in question, while Elston wasn’t.  Because of the inconsistency with which officiating crews from even the same conference view targeting, the NCAA is taking an additional step in an attempt to create some type of fairness for what could be a very punitive measure:

The committee has also decided, in an effort to address concerns when one of these plays is erroneously called, to make the ejection portion of the penalty reviewable through video replay. The replay official must have conclusive evidence that a player should not be ejected to overturn the call on the field.

Individual conferences will continue to maintain the right to mete out additional punishment they deem necessary or justified.

“The general consensus is that the officials on the field make this call properly the vast majority of the time and know what the committee is looking for with this foul,” said Rogers Redding, secretary-editor of the rules committee and national coordinator of officials for College Football Officiating, LLC. “This move is being made to directly change player behavior and impact player safety.”

In discussing “measures to remove targeting… [that] will improve our great sport,” Troy Calhoun, chair of the committee and head coach at Air Force, said in a statement that “[w]e all have a role to embrace when making a positive impact on our game.”

It should be noted that this issue, as well as the ones coming below, are merely proposals at the moment and must still be reviewed by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.  That panel will meet March 6 to conduct the review.

The PROP will also consider the following next month:

— To add a 10-second runoff with less than a minute remaining in either half when the sole reason for the clock to stop is an injury.

(Note: in other words, this proposal will encourage teams with the lead to fake injuries to drain the clock?  Yep, got it.)

— To establish three seconds as the minimum amount of time required to be on the game clock in order to spike the ball to stop the clock. If one or two seconds remain on the clock, there is only time for the offense to run one more play.

(Note: why the committee would feel the need to address this issue in any way, shape or form is beyond is head-scratching, unless it’s merely to save Les Miles from his inner Mad Hatter Clock Manager.)

— To require a player that changes numbers during the game to report this to the referee, who will announce this.

(Note: this will be forever known as the “Lane Kiffin Rule” and that is spectacular on several levels.)

— To only allow one player number to be worn by the same team and participate at the same position (e.g., two quarterbacks on the same team are not allowed to have the same number).

— To require teams to have either their jersey or pants contrast in color to the playing field.

(Note: this will likely be referred to as the “Boise State Rule.” If passed, this would preclude the Broncos from wearing their all-blue uniforms on the famed/infamous Smurf Turf. Upon their “return” from the Big East to the Mountain West, the MWC had decided to allow that uniform combination after previously banning it.)

— To allow the use of electronic communication by the on-field officiating crew after successful experimentation by the Southeastern Conference. This is not a required piece of equipment but will allow officiating crews to use this tool.

–To allow the Big 12 Conference to experiment with using an eighth official on the field in conference games. This official would be placed in the backfield opposite the referee.

–To allow instant replay to adjust the clock at the end of each quarter. Previously this provision was only in place for the end of each half.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.