The South Dakota High School Activities Association could be making a change to its football bylaws and Mitchell High School is onboard.
At the May 13 school board meeting, Mitchell voted in favor-at the recommendation of Activities Director Cory Aadland-of an SDHSAA proposal to reduce the penalty for illegal personal contact-which encompasses fouls such as targeting fouls and blindside blocks-during the upcoming football season.
SDHSAA bylaws currently state that any player ejected for illegal personal contact shall be disqualified for the remainder of the game and the next.
A constitutional amendment would limit it to the equivalent of one game. Should the foul occur in the first half, that player would be eligible at the start of the next game. If it occurs in the second half, that player will miss the first half of the next game, reflecting the NCAA rules.
"In the targeting rule, intent is not taken into consideration," Aadland said. "If you have that contact, it's an automatic disqualification. You have what could be a legitimate football result in an ejection and if it happens on the first play of the game, it essentially becomes a two-game ejection. You're lessening the rule for those type of plays that are no ill-intent."
The idea for the rule proposal did not come through any concrete statistics, as SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand told The Daily Republic the SDHSAA did not tally numbers for excessive contact or targeting. There were also no such calls in Kernel games in 2018.
Not only was a two-game suspension-or 25 percent of an eight-game season-considered a steep penalty for plays without malicious intent, but Krogstrand also felt officials were apprehensive about levying such stiff sanctions on kids. With lesser penalties in place, the hope is that officials may be more willing to enforce the rules.
"The penalty becomes less severe, so then hopefully it is enforced more regularly and more stringently when those contact calls occur," Krogstrand said. "At the same time, when it is a tougher judgement call, maybe the penalty is not as severe for an ejection like most of us think of an ejection for unsportsmanlike conduct and things like that."
While the rule is designed to reflect college football, those guidelines are aided by instant replay. Any targeting call is reviewed by referees, and while instant replay in state championship games is currently on the table, it's not feasible for every game across the state during the course of the season.
Furthermore, players, coaches and administrators are not able to file appeals in regards to penalties and disqualifications. The inability to cross-reference a play in question also lends itself to the proposed change.
"We've had videos sent and videos obtained of calls of this nature, but the challenge is that it's not a high-definition broadcast," Krogstrand said. "The lighting and all those things that go into a quality clip just aren't there. We don't look at video for any call in the regular season."
Each school district in the state gets one vote, and schools were slated to submit their votes by the end of the month. A 60-percent plurality of member schools voting in favor of the change would enact the new rules for the 2019 season.
Both Krogstrand and Aadland felt the rule was gaining traction from schools throughout the state.
"I would say there's general support for it," Aadland said. "That's based off conversations that I've had with colleagues. There may be some no votes, but in general, I would expect it to be pretty well-supported."