Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson took the podium first this morning to explain changes in the rules for 2014. As this is an even-numbered year, any changes are, by policy, mere refinements; major changes only occur in odd-numbered years. But the three minor changes this year are all fairly meaningful.
First, recovery of a loose ball is now reviewable anywhere on the field, rather than just in the end zone. Anderson used the infamous Oklahoma-Oregon game as an example; in that instance, had the rule been in place, Oklahoma would have retained possession.
Another change is that on sideline plays where a receiver was out of bounds and returned to the field of play, it is now ruled out of bounds if the player has not completely returned to the field of play before touching the ball. Previously, what mattered was where the player landed -- that is, if the player left his feet out of bounds, then touched the ball, then came down in bounds, the play was considered to be in bounds. That play would now be out of bounds.
The targeting rule has, as most are aware, been changed; to reiterate that change, the penalty is now overturned if the ejection is overturned if the penalty was only for targeting. (A situation where targeting is combined with another penalty will remain a penalty.) This removes the ridiculous circumstance last year where a targeting call might be overturned, but a deserved penalty wasn't given as a result of the ejection being overruled.
Anderson noted that in 823 FBS games last year, there were 92 targeting calls. Of those 92 calls, only 32 were upheld, meaning 60 times penalties were overturned when a foul of some other sort may in fact have occured. In the Big 12, there were eight targeting calls; four were overturned. Anderson showed all eight. None of the four that were overturned would be a non-targeting penalty, but one -- when Baylor's K.J. Morton drilled Oklahoma's Sterling Shephard -- would actually be targeting this year. Why?
Because there was also a subtle change to the wording: where the rule last year stated that "initiating" contact to the head or neck was a foul, now it's "making forcible contact". On that play Morton had been forcibly driving upward and toward Shephard's head. Because of the wording last year, it was not targeting last year; this year, it will be.
Anderson also made clear that all helmet-to-helmet contact is not targeting. It is only targeting if the targeted player is deemed to be in a "defenseless" situation, which includes quarterbacks in the pocket, defensive players being blocked from the blind side, and receivers in the air. As a specific example, Anderson noted that targeting cannot be called on a hit against a ball carrier, specifically a receiver who has shed the "defenseless" tag -- that is, once they've gotten control of the ball and started moving downfield. (Or, in Mike Pereira parlance, "made a football move".)
Going back to the way the new targeting rule will be implemented, Anderson explained that when targeting occurs in combination with another foul, the referee will call both penalties. The review booth will then determine whether targeting did or did not occur. If targeting occurs, it's a fifteen-yard penalty and disqualification; if it doesn't, then the other penalty remains in place. The example Anderson showed was from a Colorado State game last year when targeting was called in a kick-catch interference situation, and the targeting call was overturned. Under last year's rules, that play resulted in no penalty at all; this year, the interference call will still be upheld even if the targeting is overturned. The combination foul, as this situation will be termed, is not reviewable by the replay official.