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What is happening to college football?

It was a scene any college football fan loves, unless it’s happening to a player for which they root.

The 2012 Outback Bowl: Michigan running back Vincent Smith received a handoff in the backfield, then less than a second later, South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney was literally right in his face.

What followed was one of the hardest hits you’ll ever see, and the hit was played over and over again on SportsCenter that evening, as well as the next day.

Fans loved it. South Carolina fans in particular loved it. Even Michigan fans had to admit that Clowney rung Smith up.

Anyone who’s attended a college football game in person knows what it’s like to witness these kinds of hard hits. When they happen, the fans collectively say, “Oooh!” Then the hit is shown on the Jumbotron, in slow motion, to which the stadium once again expresses out loud how much that had to hurt.

Soon, those sounds may be joined seconds later by much angrier sounds as fans witness a little yellow flag tossed in the air.

College football recently enacted a new rule concerning a player “targeting” a defenseless player and hitting them above the shoulders. The action already carried with it a 15-yard penalty. Now, it carries the possibility of an ejection.

Referees will be responsible for interpreting this rule. If they flag a player, in addition to a penalty, it’s an automatic ejection. A play can be reviewed after the flag is thrown, and it can be determined in the booth that the play doesn’t warrant an ejection — but the 15-yard penalty cannot be overturned.

ACC Coordinator of Football Operations Paul Rhoads and former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira both recently said Clowney’s hit would have resulted in Clowney’s ejection under the new rule. Pereira said he felt Clowney led with the crown of his helmet.

“If I’m an official, based on, ‘When in doubt,’ he’s out,” Pereira said.

But see, therein lies the problem — you’re asking officials to make a judgment call. On an almost weekly basis during the course of a college football season, an official blows a call in a high-profile game. It happens far too often already. Now, you want to give officials an even greater say in directly affecting the outcome of a game?

Furthermore, this speaks to a much bigger problem going on in football circles — the softening of the sport.

From pee wee football on up, players are taught how to form tackle and what technique to use in order to wrap up on a ball carrier. The physical nature of the sport and the sometimes devastating injuries that result from playing lead to a somber reality: Football is a violent sport.

But these players know what they’re getting into when they play. They know the risks, yet they still choose to play. Why, then, do you have these kinds of rules being enacted that discourage hard hits?

Players should be taught the proper way to tackle. Research should be done on making equipment that makes the game more safe. If someone is legitimately trying to cause injury, he deserves to be ejected. But these kinds of rules could potentially make players too conscientious of not wanting to get thrown out — and ruining their defensive play as a result.

The only question I have is, what is happening to the sport we know and love?