John McGrath

John McGrath: As focus increases on targeting, football begins it’s slide into a different sport

Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa, left, hits Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer during the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl on Friday. Bosa was ejected from the game after the hit was ruled targeting by the officials.
Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa, left, hits Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer during the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl on Friday. Bosa was ejected from the game after the hit was ruled targeting by the officials. Columbus Dispatch

The game between Ohio State and Notre Dame turned out to be a snoozer, just as almost all of the games have been during a college football bowl season that’s put more people to sleep than the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

But give the Fiesta Bowl this much: It offered a glimpse of what football figures to look like in the future, when blocking is restricted and tackling is prohibited and the sport as we know it will be considered as barbaric as a medieval joust.

New rules, arbitrarily enforced, already are affecting how football is played.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa got in trouble Friday because he made contact with the crown of his helmet while charging into Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. A case could be made for penalizing Bosa because of faulty fundamentals — instead of using one of his shoulders on the hit, he led with the helmet — but it appeared to be an unintentional mistake committed in real time.

Fifteen yards for bad form executed in a split-second? Hey, that’s the way of the world.

But Bosa wasn’t merely penalized midway through the first quarter of the Buckeyes’ 44-28 victory. Upon a replay review, the future first-round draft choice was ejected from the final game of his college career.

An ejection might be warranted if the pass rusher takes a cheap shot to the head or knees of the quarterback. Bosa did neither. He charged into the ribcage of Kizer as he was releasing the ball. Kizer tumbled and got right back up.

Two tough athletes were engaged in a full-contact sport. One ran into the other. Nobody was hurt. Not lots of evidence to identify the pass rusher as a scofflaw, but that’s what happened. Officials reviewed the play and determined Bosa’s violation of the rules was so egregious it required him to leave the field and stay off the field.

I am not a Neanderthal about head trauma. Football’s dirty little secret is a secret no more, a development that defines progress. Once upon a time — like, a year ago — violent collisions were seen on ESPN’s Sunday night NFL wrap-up show. The collisions were celebrated with yucks and yells.

In terms of concussion awareness, to borrow from those TV ads from the late 1960s for Virginia Slims cigarettes, we’ve come a long way, baby. Think about this: An advertising campaign was built around a cigarette brand specifically targeting women, and the campaign was a success.

It’s possible full-contact football will be remembered as a bizarre national fixation. Players tackling each other? Tackling has all but been eliminated in practice. By 2036, tackling during a game might seem as inhumane as lighting up a Virginia Slims cigarette in a crowded restaurant.

Because point spreads for the sport are easily grasped by gamblers, not to mention the enduring popularity of fantasy leagues, football will survive and perhaps even thrive through the first half of the 21st century. But I’ve got a hunch it will be quite different.

I’m envisioning flags, only not the kind of the yellow flag dropped on a pass rusher who plowed into a quarterback during the Fiesta Bowl. I’m envisioning flags on the hips of players in the style of college intramurals, where removing one of the flags constitutes a tackle.

I’m envisioning, too, a game that enables every player on offense eligible to catch a pass. Centers, guards and tackles, typically conspicuous only when they are penalized for a false start or holding, will join the party. More receivers means more points, and more points means more people playing fantasy leagues.

Football is here to stay. But full-contact football? The football that calls for a pass-rushing defensive end to pursue a quarterback and sometimes bump into him at full speed?

That’s being phased out in subtle increments. Joey Bosa’s ejection from the Fiesta Bowl represented Phase One.

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