In the first quarter of today’s Ohio State-Iowa game, an Iowa receiver caught a pass on a crossing pattern and got drilled in the chest by Buckeye defensive back Bradley Roby. The Iowa receiver, to his credit, held on to the ball.
The officials dropped a flag. They ended up calling a “targeting” penalty on Roby for what certainly looked to me like a clean, if hard, hit, and then ejected Roby from the game. The explanation for the penalty is that a receiver who catches the ball is “defenseless” and shouldn’t be drilled.
Huh? This is, or was, football. The game is all about hard hits. I’m not in favor of headhunting, or spearing someone who is on the ground, or clothes-lining a receiver in the neck, but Roby’s hit was a classic football hit — shoulder to chest, trying to jar the ball loose. The fact that Roby was not only penalized, but in fact ejected from the game, for such a hit tells me that the game is changing, and not for the better.
At last week’s Browns’ game we saw a similar call. As the Lions were driving for a score to try to put the game away, a Browns player hit the Lions QB in the chest just as the ball was released. The pass was incomplete, but the Browns were called for an unnecessary roughness penalty, and the game was over.
I’m sure these rules changes are being made, at least in part, in order to protect players and to avoid the concussions that have plagued football at every level. I also suspect, however, that the motivation, at least in part, is to favor the offense. In the Ohio State game today, one Iowa running back typically put his head down and used his helmet to try to batter the would-be tacklers. It’s a time-honored football technique — but why should the offensive player be able to lead with his head when a defensive player can’t?
We may be heading toward a day when every football game is a 52-49 affair and offenses move up and down the field to the delight of offensive-minded fans. If that happens, it’s too bad — because it’s not really football. I’m hoping that the officials in charge of devising new penalties avoid wussifying football to the point where the sport isn’t really recognizable any more.