Q&A: Fox rules analyst Pereira on new penalty

A new penalty for targeting defenseless players goes into effect this season. Now, instead of a 15-yard infraction, a player will be ejected. It’s a change that could have a big impact on the game. I wrote about the rule after attending a Big Ten official’s clinic earlier this month.

Today during the Big Ten media interview sessions, I caught up with FOX NFL Rules Analyst Mike Pereira to get his thoughts.

Q: What are your general thoughts on the new targeting rule? Do you think it will be difficult for officials to call?

A: It is no more difficult than before because the rule hasn’t changed; just the penalty. I might say it’s easier for officials to make the call. It’s very clear in the rule book that if there is any doubt, throw the flag. It’s like green lighting them to throw the flag and they will be supported by the conference. It’s contrary to any other concept of officiating. We always told people to not throw the flag unless they are 110 percent sure. But in this area, over the past decade, it’s become OK to error on the side of safety. They throw the flag on impact; they throw when they think it’s close because the book tells them to do that. And the rules committee tells them to do that. They are charged with trying to protect players. They didn’t make the rules. They don’t mind doing this.

Q: Things happen so quickly during a game. Won’t it be tough to discern between a legal and illegal hit?

A: Even though it looks unbelievable on TV, it’s even more incredible when you are standing on the field ten yards away. The noise. Your quick reaction is going to be to throw the flag.

Q: How often do you think this penalty will be called?

A: On the BCS conference level last year, this penalty was called only 99 times. So, how big of an issue may it turn out to be?

Q: Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?

A: I don’t think you are. Any time you deal with an ejection and it carries over to another game, then I think you have to be concerned. The inconsistency that is natural in something like this is going to lead to guy getting ejected in the second half of a game and that ejection rolling over to the first half of another game. And their opponent may have had a worse hit the game before that wasn’t called and their player is playing. So, there is a competitive aspect that is a concern to me.

Q: Any safeguards to make sure the right call is made?

A: The one good thing the NCAA did was let replay look at these hits. The replay guy can work hard to try to overturn the ejection. I know you have to have indisputable evidence to overturn. But I personally think there will be a great effort by the replay official to find some evidence to overturn it because I don’t think anyone wants to eject somebody for what I would call a marginal hit.

Q: Does the NFL have a rule and penalty like this?

A: No. The NFL rule says that flagrant offenders may be disqualified. It’s at the discretion of the official.

Q: Do you see NFL adopting the rule?

A: Sure, if this is successful. The NFL has the same issues as college. This isn’t all about college football. The rules are about parents who don’t want to put their kids in Pop Warner football because they are scared of all coverage about concussions. So young kids are being turned away from the game. Those on the college and pro level have a responsibility to make the game safer on all levels. I have news for you: if the game dries up on the Pop Warner level, it will on every other level, too. There is no college or NFL football. It’s a trickle-up effect. These organizations have to protect the game. The form tackle is different than it used to be. It was head down; now it’s head to the side. It’s a different game. We all have to accept it.

Q: Any other factors lead to this new harsh penalty?

A: There are external factors that affect some of this, lawsuits. The NFL’s 4,200 players who are suing the league. The college lawsuit that started in 2011 with the Eastern Illinois player that is now a class action suit on concussions. External forces sometimes force you to make changes.

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, 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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1 Comment

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Josh on 7/25/2013 @ 1:36pm EST Said:

Since the rule is here and arguing it does no good, I think the best way to deal with these is the have flags thrown as usual and let league offices review prior to the following game to determine. Too much to ask a ref to do as players get faster and like it or not referees get caught up in the emotion of a game too. The league would have time to make an unbiased decision and notify the school that the player can’t play the following game. The player is still punished and a decision doesn’t have to be made on the fly that could potentially control the outcome of the current game.