I have frankly lost count of the number of player-safety rules changes that have come about pretty much directly because of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was the Mel Blount rule. There was the Hines Ward rule. There was the Ryan Shazier rule. And you might as well call it the James Harrison initiative, the re-emphasis of the defenseless player protections from several years back.
Following Monday night’s violent showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals, the league is already talking about potentially adding another rule change that I’m quite confident will not be very popular around here. The competition committee is seriously considering adopting the targeting rule from college football that has been in place the past few years.
The targeting rule is a constant target for criticism, but part of the issue is that it has to be individually policed and enforced by different conferences, so there is an obvious problem of consistency. Now, the NFL is no bastion of consistency in the enforcement of discipline, let alone rules, but I would like to think that they could do a better job.
Adopting the targeting rule is on the table for discussion during the first session of league meetings during the offseason in February, and I would not be surprised at all if there will be a strong backing for getting it passed.
Through a number of lies and mischaracterizations that he spewed forth yesterday about fairness and consistency, executive vice president Troy Vincent did say yesterday that the targeting rule “is something that we have to consider”.
“We’ve seen it work” at the college level, he said, “to a degree. It’s clean. The play is a reviewable play at the collegiate level. But we think there’s been some positives”, he added, with respect to its function as a successful deterrent”.
I’m sure I’ll be in the minority, but I wouldn’t have a problem with the league experimenting with the targeting rule, or some variation of it, though I would like to see it run on a trial basis for a season first to see how it functions at this level before it becomes codified in perpetuity into the rule book.
The NFL, of course, would not have to adopt a perfect copy of the collegiate rule, and could tailor it to their own needs. The general idea is simply to provide a very significant deterrent for players to avoid contact above the shoulders with defenseless players, which is a noble goal.
Making a hit on a defenseless player reviewable, however, would be a major change for the league and would open up a whole new can of worms that they have wanted to avoid. Frankly, many have actually wanted such things reviewable, so in a backward way, some fans through this process may actually get something they wanted.