LAS VEGAS — Saying Boise State coach Chris Petersen is not pleased with a new rule that allows referees to eject players for illegal hits above the shoulders would probably be an understatement.

“I’m worried,” Petersen said. “There’s going to be a lot of guys who are going to be out of the game.”

Petersen and the rest of the Mountain West football coaches gathered in Las Vegas Monday to meet with the media and discuss the upcoming season. But they also met as a group with Big 12 head of officials Walt Anderson to discuss the stricter penalty for illegal hits above the shoulder.

And what they saw and heard from video examples and explanations apparently didn’t sit well.

“Some of the clips they were showing us, we’re kind of all looking at them like, ‘really?’ That’s going to eject a guy? It’s very concerning,” Petersen said.

In addition to a 15-yard personal foul penalty, players who commit illegal “targeting” hits will be ejected from the game. If the ejection comes during the second half of a game, the player is suspended for the first half of their next game as well.

The main issue comes from what will likely be a gray area where referees are forced to decide whether or not the hit was intentional or just incidental contact. And Anderson told the media in a session Monday that referees will be told to call the penalty and eject the player when there is any doubt regarding whether or not the hit was illegal.

“Just how they are talking to us, how they are planning on regulating it, I mean if there’s any doubt, they are calling it,” Petersen said. “It’s definitely a big change from where we were last year.

“I think half or even three quarters of (the hits) that you see, you go, ‘Yeah, that needs to be out of the game.’ We’re all for that, but there was another handful of plays that it was like, ‘The guy is getting thrown out for that?’ They just really want to protect the head, which we get, but there was a couple where everybody was pretty surprised that that was going to cost the guy playing time.”

Boise State safety Darian Thompson was shown in the video making a hit on a wide receiver from BYU during a game last season. Under the new rule, he would have been ejected from the game. Petersen said he didn’t object to that hit.

Ejections for targeting or illegal hits will be subject to video review. The personal foul penalty cannot be reversed but the ejection can, proven the video replay shows a “clear and obvious” mistake.

Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick also has issues with possible ejections and what it might do to a defensive team if it causes them to lose a key player in a key spot in the game.

“I understand player safety and all that and I appreciate them looking out for the well being of the players, but ejecting a player, that’s a serious deal,” Southwick said. “All I know is, and I feel pretty comfortable in saying this, that it’s going to change a few games. It will definitely change a few games.

“That’s what I’m concerned about, when it changes a game. What if it changes an SEC game, what if it changes an SEC Championship game? On the biggest stage you can think of, what if it happens there? That’s what’s going through my head.”

Petersen said his defensive coaching staff was already looking for ways to teach safer tackling and met with coaches from a local rugby team in Boise to explore the topic deeper. Rugby players don’t wear helmets and therefore don’t lead with the head when they are tackling like most college players do on illegal hits. They also display the need to wrap up to make a tackle, something Petersen said would need to be stressed.

“We’re all about safety, we really are,” Petersen said. “So, hopefully, we do a good job teaching our kids that the game has changed in terms of tackling and the shots you can take. The penalty is going to be the minor thing. You’re going to be out of the game. You might miss portions of two games.”

Asked for how the new rule might change things, Petersen joked, “We better travel every defensive back we’ve got because they might all be out of the game.”

B.J Rains covers Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press-Tribune. He also makes daily appearances on ESPN Boise.

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