The most controversial, frustrating, and annoying penalty kick in college football will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, and the industry has the Pac-12 to thank for it.
Someone had to collect the data, draw the conclusions, and lend legitimacy to the one penalty – the targeting – that could help save the sport.
You know what’s worse than the target penalty? Concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and the long-term effects of severe brain injury.
And do you know what’s bad for college football’s health? The stigma of head trauma, callous trainers and administrators, and dwindling attendance, particularly on the west coast.
The target penalty — in both college and the NFL — was designed to reduce hits to the head, limiting the incidence of concussions and making the sport safer.
Did it work?
A multi-year Pac-12 study aimed to determine whether target plays “have a higher risk of concussion than other plays in American football.”
The connection is clear: The risk of concussion was 39 times higher in targeted games than in all other games.
“The Pac-12 has been dealing with these things for years,” said Utah athletic director Mark Harlan, who serves on the influential NCAA Football Oversight Committee and chairs the Practice and Game Subcommittee.
“They look at the overall data and it seems that they changed the game for the better.”
The aiming rule isn’t perfect – players were incorrectly ejected. But the enforcement process has become more efficient and accurate over the years. In fact, the NCAA streamlined the process this spring, allowing teams to appeal suspensions in certain situations.
But the rule itself will remain in effect, and as per the results of the Pac-12 trial, it will solidify as ever.
“There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about targeting and overcalling, so we wanted to look at the data,” said Dr. Doug Aukerman of Oregon State, one of the authors of the study.
“There was an increased relative risk of being diagnosed with concussion regardless of whether targeting was maintained or de-targeted.”
The study, conducted by 10 conference physicians and researchers, examined 538 Pac-12 games over a four-year period (2016-19).
Schools provided information on injuries so cases of concussion could be identified in the pieces examined. The researchers filtered for games in which targeting was invoked.
According to the study published by the National Library of Medicine:
— 68,670 games were reviewed, in which 213 concussions occurred (15 during games in which aim was called and 198 in other games).
— The incidence of concussion was 106.4/1000 games for targeted games and 2.9/1000 games for non-targeted games.
— The risk of concussion during target play was 36.9 times greater than any other play.
— The risk of concussion on sustained target plays was 49.0 times greater than all other plays.
“The goal penalty, whether it meets the criteria or not, just the fact that the official threw the flag means it is significant and competitors should be screened to make sure they are okay,” Aukerman said.
The penalty itself, the concussion incidence rate, the study and the conclusions — all matter when thrown against one of the most serious threats to West Coast college football’s long-term health.
The Pac-12’s talent pipeline is drying up, folks, and drying up faster than other Power Five leagues.
According to data released by the National Federation of State High School Associations, prep soccer attendance in California fell 11.7 percent over a five-year period before the pandemic (2014-18).
The decline was comparable in Arizona (11 percent) and worse in Oregon (14 percent).
Meanwhile, participation in Georgia fell 3.2 percent over the five-year span, while Florida saw a decline of just 0.6 percent. Participated in high school soccer in Texas elevated.
The Pac-12 has problems with notoriety and revenue, which it hopes to fix with a new media rights deal in 2024.
It has a competition problem that should be solved (in large part or in part) by expanding the College Football Playoffs in 2026.
But there’s an attendance problem that could continue unabated unless high school players and their parents across the conference floor believe the game is being made safer.
“The more information we can provide to the public,” Aukerman said, “and the more dedicated health professionals who can help shape and evaluate the rules to create a safer environment for a wonderful sport — hopefully that will give reassurance that.” there are ways to play the game to mitigate the risk.”
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