New penalty concerns Nebraska's Bo Pelini

One of the biggest early-season stories in 2013 will be the new penalty for targeting a defenseless player. Last year, the penalty was a 15-yard infraction. This year, the penalty is ejection from the game. It’s all about player safety. But Nebraska’s Bo Pelini has some concerns.

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“I understand it’s about player safety, but we have to make sure we’re not messing up integrity of game and how it’s played,” said Pelini. “It’s going to be pretty subjective … In my opinion it’s going a little overboard.”

Honestly, I didn’t think we would hear any coach make a statement like that in this venue. I thought every coach would take more of the company line. So, it was refreshing to hear Pelini say how he really feels about a rule that is going to alter the game very significantly.

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Remember that hit by South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl last year? Well, that hit would likely result in Clowney getting booted from the game this coming season. I think Pelini fully grasps what’s about to happen to the sport of football.

And he’s a bit uneasy about it, as am I.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (11 Comments)
Ron Andersen on 7/24/2013 @ 3:23pm EDT Said:

Reactions to Bo Pelini and your comments about the new rule about hitting defenseless players.
1. Amen!
2. Officials will get (more?) lazy (as they have been getting lazy already) with the “Instant replay will fix it if I’m wrong attitude.” Problem is that a call was made “on the field” and the burden must be clear and conclusive to overturn the call on the field.
3. Real time speed and instant replay slo- to super-slo-mo are very different. Angles. Distances. Etc. Also, slo-mo replays can give the impression that the player had plenty of time to “think” about the hit.

One thing they could do is to take the glamour out of “the big hit.” No more replays or Sports Center highlights. I absolutely believe that the vicious hit has become more prevalent since players started getting their “15 seconds of fame” on Sports Center.

Ron Andersen
Eagan, MN

Tyler Heun on 7/24/2013 @ 3:38pm EDT Said:

It’s an absolutely terrible rule. Nebraska would have had wide receivers ejected on numerous occasions last year for throwing perfectly legal, all though brutal, blocks. Kenny Bell against Wisconsin is the most obvious example. Or Quincy Enunwa tackling a corner back after a pick? That dude hits hard, but legal. The NCAA already came out and said Clowney would have been ejected against Michigan, so no need to say likely. Bottom line is it makes sense to protect a QB and Punter, because their job requires them to have a blind side or a landing spot. A WR, CB, RB, etc.. should always be 100% aware of their surroundings or face the consequences of getting hit hard.

Will on 7/24/2013 @ 3:55pm EDT Said:

The NCAA is trying to reduce injury and we all get that but this is a slippery slope and will ultimately cost some players and team’s potential games this year! Let’s hope the officials act on the intent of the rule and not the emotion of a solid legal hit.

shookwriter27 on 7/24/2013 @ 4:38pm EDT Said:

There’s a fine line between player safety and going too far. The powers that be have to make sure they don’t too much away from the game.

Kevin Small on 7/24/2013 @ 4:59pm EDT Said:

You have to understand What Coach Pelini is saying. If a play is designed to block a person that is perfectly acceptable. Because everybody on defense or the kicking team has a responsibility to go after the ball. For Qb’s and punters we already have penalties. So this rule seems to take away play making and the integrity of the game.

Witt on 7/24/2013 @ 5:33pm EDT Said:

This is going to be bad. Have you seen a single game in the last two seasons where NO ONE was flagged for a hit? So we’re talking at least one ejection a game? Really? Hope you have some depth on defense.

Ed on 7/24/2013 @ 5:51pm EDT Said:

Although not having seen how the entire rule reads, it seems to interject more “Human Judgement and Control” into a game that is already overrun with poor human calls that are already affecting the outcomes of games leading all the way to Championship level. This rule, at least at this point, seems to open that door even further, for potentially poor calls and Lord knows we saw enough of those last year…..Game, League and Championship changing calls.

chet collins on 7/25/2013 @ 7:39am EDT Said:

A defenseless player is one who chooses to focus completely on a catch or throw, etc, If the player wants to neglect being prepared to get hit that is their problem. Players should not be penalized for hitting when the player being hit is not protecting themselves. They will have to decide to either make the play and possibly get hurt, or protect themselves from the hit and not be able to make the play. This is how you intimidate opposing players. Allowing the rules to be changed in a way that rewards players who neglect to prepare themselves for a hit is ridiculous. They don’t need to protect the defenseless player, they need to teach him proper football techniques so he can learn how to protect himself from a hit. Of course that may mean he won’t be able to make the fantastic catch or throw because he has to think about the hit that will come when he exposes himself to the defender. Not rely on the rule changes and officials to protect him.

Rosalie on 7/25/2013 @ 7:49am EDT Said:

This will be truly subjective IMHO. There better be some fairly extensive training of officials across the country on this new rule to hopefully standardize the judgment of these tackles in as many situations as possible. It will DEFINITELY determine the outcome of games.

Scott on 7/25/2013 @ 4:41pm EDT Said:

The NCAA is walking a very dangerous line.

On the one hand they need to protect the integrity of the game, and on the other they need to protect the players.

The effects of repeated concussions on players cognition is frightening and undisputed. They develop dementia quite early in life. The autopsies of NFL and College players have demonstrated that hits resulting in undiagnosed concussions lead to permanent brain damage. They are facing a potential class action law suit on their handling of these types of hits (resulting in concussions).

On the other hand, the subjectivity of a “hit on a defenseless player” is wide. I have seen this for helmet to helmet hits, shoulder to helmet hits, helmet to chest hits, and shoulder to chest hits. With that variance, how to you tackle. Additionally, Offensive and Defensive lineman have an inordinate amount of these injuries from coming off the line and hitting heads. Or what about the running back that lowers his head into a hole.

Bill B on 7/26/2013 @ 5:08pm EDT Said:

I agree that spearing or any other form of helmet above the shoulders contact should result in ejection, but I think the play should be reviewed before making the determination. Last year a couple of penalties assessed against NU players showed that contact was with the shoulder or chest or the offensive player was in a falling position at the time of contact (players can’t judge trajectory when another play if falling or changing position). This is a severe penalty and I think before itis enacted on any play a further review should be required. I am also in favor of ejection for helmet contact to the exposed back of a player. How many times has TM been missile attacked from behind directly into his spinal column. And as I say all of this, there have been some baddies on NU DB’s (in particuar), too.