The AFCA closed its 2019 convention on Wednesday with executive director Todd Berry's annual press conference, following a multi-hour meeting with FBS head coaches. It's when Berry lays out the organization's legislative agenda for the upcoming year, and the top line item for 2019 is the targeting rule.
In short, just like fans, coaches are tired of seeing targeting misdemeanors treated like felonies, and now they'd like to see the NCAA do something about it.
The AFCA would like to see the NCAA install a red card/yellow card system to the targeting penalty. A Targeting 1 call would be the yellow card, calling for a 15-yard penalty and allowing the offending player to remain in the game. A Targeting 2 flag would carry the same punishment as the current rule, where the player is removed from the remainder of the game as well as the first half of his next game if the foul occurs in the second half.
Importantly, Berry did not market this agenda as a softening of the targeting rule, just adding some common sense to a necessary rule. To back that up, he said coaches would like to see players be suspended if they receive multiple Targeting 2 flags.
But most of all, they don't want to see a player making a safe tackle who happened to collide with the helmet of an offensive player who lowered his head at the last moment removed from the game. This one is a very, very costly one for a student-athlete that has very limited attempts to play the game," Berry said. "For them to be eliminated, we think, is pretty severe."
Now, the devil is in the details of every rule change, and most of those details are yet to be worked out. How many Targeting 2 flags would necessitate a suspension, and how long should that suspension last? In soccer, two yellow flags equal one red flag. Would two Targeting 1s equal a Targeting 2? That would seem silly since Targeting 1 is a flag of innocent intent. But how about four? "I think that's open for discussion," Berry said.
The good and bad news is there's ample time for said discussion. The NCAA is not in a legislative year, meaning any changes would not take effect until the 2020 football season. Berry will spend the time between then and now making his stump speech to the necessary parties to build consensus for what his organization views as a necessary change.
Other items discussed by Berry and the FBS coaches.
- Coaches are on board with the early signing period. Any talk of "unintended consequences" of making December the new February did not surface on Wednesday, according to Berry. "For many out there that did not sign in the first signing date, they have opportunities still to go take visits in universities that are interested in them and their talents.
- Coaches also love the new redshirt rule. This was Berry's top item following the 2018 convention, and a year later that it's a clear success across the board. "It's significantly popular with our coaches. It's a win-win," he said Wednesday. Berry mentioned the Kelly Bryant situation, where the former Clemson starter left the team after four games upon his demotion, as an "isolated incident." The rule was intended to stop punishing freshmen for playing late in the year as injury stop-gaps, and the AFCA viewed Year 1 as a success in that regard.
That said, coaches are wary of the prevalence of undergraduate players being deemed immediately eligible by the NCAA.
"We do not support the undergraduate transfer where they're immediately eligible. We don't think that's fair to anyone," Berry said. "We're not against transfers as a whole... We still support (the graduate transfer) at a significantly high level."
- Coaches want to review the NCAA's new training camp schedule. The NCAA now gives teams 29 days to conduct up to 25 practices and, while he didn't come out and say it, Berry indicated the coaches weren't huge fans. "We're anxious to see what the Sport Science Institute data says when it comes back. There was an assumption that injuries would go back, and this becomes a problem when you don't have any data to back up what you're doing," Berry said. "The coaches want to do the absolute right thing, but we want to have data to make sure that is the right thing."
- Coaches want the NCAA to define what a coaching duty is. Smaller schools, it seems, have yielded to the idea that the NCAA will mandate uniform support staff sizes, but they'd like the NCAA to clarify whether analysts, quality control coaches can or cannot participate in certain game day, practice and recruiting functions. The way to do that, Berry said, would be for the NCAA to come out and state explicitly what a "coaching duty" is. "They'd like to see fairness on the field in game day, they'd like to see fairness on the practice field and they'd like to see fairness in recruiting," he said.
And for those caught breaking rules, the AFCA would like to see them actually punish. "If we're going to have a rule, then please, NCAA, put some bite into it and not make it a slap on the hand," Berry said. "I'm talking about lost game time, I'm talking about lost scholarships, I'm talking about lost money, for breaking rules."
- Coaches want high school coaches more involved in recruiting. Football, Berry said, is the last sport to recruit through high schools and not club teams, though any college coach will tell you "third-party" influence is growing. "We're the last vestige and as coaches we'd like to very much protect our scholastic model," Berry said. As a show of goodwill, coaches want to stop playing games on Friday nights. "It seems very strange to all of us that we would invade the land of the hand that's feeding us," Berry said.
Of all the topics broached Wednesday, the end of college football games on Friday nights seems like the most likely to draw unanimous support and the least likely to actually happen.
- Finally, coaches haven't forgotten about the IAWP rule. "We talked about that significantly," Berry said. "We hope to have some conclusions at this time next year. We've certainly been talking about a long time, and it's certainly time to not keep kicking the can down the road and come up with solutions."