The Final Word on the Greg Reid Hit

For most FSU fans, the only thing worse than the 14 point swing that resulted from the interception nullifying personal foul called on Greg Reid was the reaction from the ACC coordinator of officials, Doug Rhoads, who took the position when asked that the hit was illegal. 

Re-watch the hit after the jump, then dive into the ambiguous world of the NCAA as we try to answer the following questions:

1)What were the officials thinking?

and

2) What can be done to protect the safety of the players without turning football into soccer?  

Greg Reid puts the MUSH on Maryland WR (via csmithfsu)

After re-watching the video (over and over again), and reading the NCAA rulebook, points of emphasis, and supplements to the Rule, here is what I've come up with:

A) The receiver was technically "defenseless" as that term is explained in the points of emphasis.  (A "pass receiver" whose "concentration is on the ball" is defined as "defenseless"). See p. 11, NCAA 2009-2010 Football Rules.


B) The way I read the Rule, contact must be "targeted" and  "initiated" "above the shoulders".  See p. 236 (Rule 9-1-3) NCAA 2009-2010 Football Rules

Receiver A83 has just leaped and received a forward pass. As A83 is about to regain his balance, B45 launches and drives into A83 above the shoulder area with his helmet or shoulder.

RULING: Foul by B45 for targeting and initiating contact with a defenseless opponent above the shoulders. Ejection for a flagrant foul.

(bold emphasis supplied).


C) Unless you look like Babe Ruth, the only major body parts which are above the shoulders are the neck and the head. 

D) Without getting too legalistic, there are certain principles of  "statutory construction" which inform interpretation of statutes or rules.  First,  words are not placed in a rule to be redundant.  Thus, "targeting" would seem to invoke an element of intent/attempt (mens rea), whereas initiating would appear to invoke the concept of succeeding in that attempt (actus reus). Second, an interpretation that would produce an absurd or unjust result should be avoided, in the face of an equally plausible interpretation that does not produce an absurd or unjust result.  Finally, statutes or rules, to the extent that might have more than one interpretation, are considered in relation to the other rules that make up part of that same scheme, so that the rules, when read together, are logically consistent.  For our purposes, this means that the Rule related to leading with the crown of the helmet and other rules related to intentional contact versus unintentional contact.

E) Given that we are dealing with the NCAA, whose rules are being implemented by equally, if not more incompetent minions (the ACC), it appears as though someone wisely decided that Rule 9-1-3 might be confusing to an official, who might be unsure which parts of the body were "above the shoulders." See paragraph C above.  Accordingly, the NCAA issued a statement which "clarified" that rule.  See p. 1 NCAA Rules Committee Action Report for 2010.

Strengthening Of Existing Rules Regarding Targeting and Initiating Contact
Editorial clarification for 2010: Current Rule 9-1-3 replaced by 9-1-3- and 9-1-4, as follows
:

Targeting/Initiating Contact with Crown of the Helmet
ARTICLE 3. 

No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.

PENALTY—Personal foul. 15 yards. For dead-ball fouls, 15 yards from the succeeding spot. Also, automatic first down for Team B fouls if not in conflict with other rules. (Exception: Penalties for Team A personal fouls behind the neutral zone are enforced from the previous spot. Safety if the foul occurs behind Team A’s goal line) [S7, S24, S34, S38, S39, S40, S41, S45 or S46]. Flagrant offenders shall be disqualified [S47].  For Team A fouls during free or scrimmage kick plays: Enforcement may be at the previous spot or the spot where the subsequent dead ball belongs to Team B (field-goal plays exempted) (Rules 6-1-8 and 6-3-13).

Defenseless Player: Contact to Head or Neck Area
ARTICLE 4


No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul. (See Points of Emphasis for a description of "Defenseless Player.")


 (bold emphasis supplied).

F) So, reading the plain language of Rule 9-1-3, as revised by the 2010 Rules Committee clarification,  I come up with the following conclusion.  In order to violate the rule, and be justifiably penalized, a player must intentionally and successfully strike a blow to the neck or head of a receiver who is focused on the act of catching.  But more importantly, that blow must be the primary point of impact, not an incidental or secondary consequence of an otherwise legal hit.   Here, it seems that the player's head snapped back, but as Jimbo Fisher pointed out today in his press conference, that was not the result of being hit in the head.

G) Any other construction of the Rule, i.e. that any hit which involves secondary or incidental contact with the neck or helmet of an opposing player is illegal, would serve to penalize players for circumstances beyond their control, and would therefore eviscerate the "targeting" (intent) requirement of the rule.  The point of the rule is to deter players from taking headshots/neckshots at players who cannot defend themselves, not to penalize the unintended contact resulting from an otherwise legal hit.   Furthermore, it would be inconsistent with the "statutory scheme" (the remainder of the rules) which consider incidental contact to be an exception to actions which are otherwise  penalized, e.g. Pass Interference (Rule 7-3-8), Chop Block (Rule 9-1-2).


Conclusion:  The call on Greg Reid was wrong, although it is easy to see why in real time, based upon the text of the rule which requires the officials err on the side of calling the play a penalty , the referee threw the flag.

Solution:  Make all calls that involve personal fouls for hitting defenseless receivers immediately reviewable.  Let the official throw the flag, and let the booth, with the benefit of instant replay, make the decision as to whether the hit was clean.  Actually, this might be one of the easier things to decide on replay, since the slow-mo does a better good  job of demonstrating the primary point of impact.  

Post-Script:  There is supposed to be video review by the conference of any Rule 9-1-3 violations that do not result in an ejection.  See Rules, p. 135.  I suspect that the Reid hit will be reviewed, and there will be no further action taken, nor will there be any retraction from the ACC associated with the comments made by its officiating director.  I will consider this conspicuous silence to be an admission that my interpretation of the Rule is correct, and that there should not have been a flag associated with the incidental helmet contact on the play.

See Initiating Contact/Targeting an Opponent

ARTICLE 2.

When there is a foul called for initiating contact/targeting an opponent (Rule 9-1-3) that does not result in a player disqualification, there shall automatically be a video review by the conference for possible
additional sanctions prior to the next scheduled game.

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