Chris McCain ejected for new NCAA targeting rule: Our CGB roundtable [UPDATED]

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What are your thoughts on the Chris McCain ejection? Update: Chris McCain has been reinstated for the Portland State game! Sweet justice!

Update: Pac-12 officials have reinstated Chris McCain for the Portland State game due to a "failure in the replay process." (H/T to atomsareenough and puresilence for bringing this to our attention)

Berkelium97: Let's review the play (at 51 seconds into the video).

He had not left his feet when he made initial contact and his head went directly into Siemian's chest at first. He didn't even lead with the crown of his helmet. Instead of boring through him like some sort of Itchy and Scratchy gag, McCain went up after the contact. Did he make contact with Siemian's helmet? I guess, if you consider the facemask to be part of the helmet. It was a thoroughly questionable call. McCain should have handled it better, though. The blowhards on ESPN's College Football Final called him out for bowing when they aired the highlights.

Leland Wong: I think I have a bigger issue with the roughing the passer call. As for the ejection, the intent behind that rule is great, but I'm not sure if I agree with the execution yet. Automatic ejection for two halves (i.e., it may carry over to the next game when the hit occurs in the second half) on the first transgression seems a little excessive to me. Maybe a warning? Maybe one quarter or one half? The bigger question is how the refs called some of the hits by the Northwestern defense.

Yellow fever: According to the letter of the law, that was the right call. It did look like a close call in terms of when McCain made the hit versus when the ball was released, but that's irrelevant with respect to where he was aiming. He was going to nail the guy in the head either way.

LeonPowe: Frankly it didn't even look like the hardest hit we had last night - it seemed egregious, moreso since its a reviewed call, although McCain needs to handle it better.

Ruey Yen: I understand the desire of NCAA to protect the players, but the Chris McCain tackle looked rather inadvertently dangerous (a bit high and to the head) but by no means intentional to me. Northwestern already got a big call of roughing the passer on that play, the extra ejection was obviously a bad break for the Bears. This ejection is akin to how in basketball now the ref has discretion to ejection someone for throwing their elbows.

Vlad Belo: Want to call roughing the passer for a helmet to helmet hit? Okay, fine, I don't like it but I can understand it. But to EJECT McCain for that? I didn't like the call and I was a little surprised that the call was upheld on replay.

I've watched the replay a few times and I still think it was a terrible call to eject McCain. Really, I don't even think it was roughing the passer. McCain wasn't late, he didn't lead with the crown of the helmet, and it didn't even look to be helmet-to-helmet contact. The hit looked vicious but wasn't: it was a clean football play.

Just, like, my opinion.

HydroTech: It was absolute BS. It wasn't a late hit. McCain wasn't targeting or leading with the crown of his helmet. It was about as clean of a hit as it gets. That was a horrible call, and even more absurd that it was reviewed and confirmed.

verytech: I was at the game so I saw the play live. After watching the replay later that night, I thought that McCain's hit on the Northwestern QB (Siemian) warranted a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty at most. An ejection was an overreach by the officials, who are still learning how to apply the brand new targeting rule. Quoting rules guru Mike Pereira, who himself is quoting the rulebook - the targeting rule is:

• No player shall target and initiate contact vs. opponent with the crown of his helmet.

• No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.


Without "overlawyering" the play - McCain did NOT lead with the crown of his helmet, but his shoulder/torso. But Siemien appeared to duck his head, as ballcarriers often do, in anticipation of contact. McCain being 6-6, contact was made in the upper torso/neck area. As Herm Edwards would say, "it was a bang-bang play." But in the current rules regime where safety (especially head trauma) is emphasized, officials err on the side of flagging a questionable hit. So give a 15-yard personal foul, fine - but an ejection, especially after a replay review?

Thus, the problem:

Coaches are not allowed to challenge the targeting penalty, but they are allowed to challenge whether replay can reverse the ejection. The ironic part of that is, if replay has clear, indisputable evidence that it should not have been an ejection, it is basically saying that it's not a foul. But replay can't reverse the call. They can only reverse the ejection.

Particularly galling for Cal fans is the uneven application of the rules: a questionable [high] hit by a NW defender on Bigelow in the 4th quarter was NOT flagged. The play happened right in front of the Cal sideline, in plain view of the coaches & Cal players. Needless to say, anyone bleeding Blue & Gold was incensed!

atomsareenough: It was horse manure. I'm not even sure there was any helmet to helmet contact. It looked like a hard, but clean tackle. The hit definitely wasn't late. And even if there was contact, it would have been extremely incidental and minor, and not direct. Even if you throw the flag, the penalty is bad enough, but there certainly shouldn't be any grounds for ejecting McCain from the game. I just didn't get it. That said, McCain didn't need to add any theatrics to the incident. They went back and reviewed it, and if he bowed afterward, I'm sure that wouldn't have made the refs any more favorably disposed on his behalf. C'mon Chris, let your playing do the talking.

ragnarok: I actually haven't seen a replay, but watching it live, the hit didn't look particularly late to me. Perhaps borderline, but I was somewhat surprised a flag was thrown.

As for the ejection, while it may seem a bit unfair, especially if the illegal contact was not intentional, I'm actually ok with it, at least in principle. If severe penalties are what it takes to reduce head injuries in football, then by all means, bring on the severe penalties. Make defenders actively try to avoid helmet contact -- I think it's obvious to every football observer that a potential for a 15-yard penalty isn't enough to stop defenders from trying to take out opposing quarterbacks.

Of course, this is predicated on the rules being correctly enforced. I'd also like to see a study done regarding the change in the rate of head/spinal injuries after this rule was put in place.

Charley Lu: I had to watch the clip multiple times (MT Berkelium97). When Simien released ball McCain was already in motion to tackle. It also appeared that the contact was not initiated with the crown of the helmet. Roughing the passer was borderline but McCain certainly didn't intend to target in my opinion. It was egregious for the refs to review this play and let the targeting ejection stand.

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