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Witt coach Fincham: New targeting rule makes it hard for defenders

It’s safe to say Joe Fincham’s Wittenberg players make him wince, frown and shout more often than they make him laugh. The coach has been known to crack a smile or two, but on Saturday afternoons at least, he’s all business. If Jerry Seinfeld and Louie C.K. were the head officials, they would have a hard time breaking the Fincham facade.

Even Fincham had to laugh earlier this week, though, when some of his players wore “Free Swope” T-shirts to practice. The senior strong safety from Fairborn was ejected from Saturday’s game against Wooster at Edwards-Maurer Field for an illegal hit.

An ejection means a player misses two halves. Wittenberg wasn’t the only school on the wrong side of the new rule last week. Ohio State’s Bradley Roby was ejected for targeting, as were three SEC defenders.

In Swope’s case, his ejection would have meant he missed the second half of the Wooster game, which he did, and the first half today against Kenyon. Fortunately for Swope, Wittenberg sent film of the hit to the supervisor of officials, and the suspension was overturned. Swope will be able to play today.

“I’m all for player safety,” Fincham said. “I understand the ramifications of the safety issue. I also understand the possible litigation stuff our society has opened itself up to. With defensive players, the window for those kids to tackle has become so small.”

The problem, Fincham said, is a defensive player can aim for the numbers and hit the head when the offensive player ducks.

“His target changes, and you’re still out of the game,” he said. “It’s gotten really hard on defensive players across the board. I’m surprised we haven’t gotten this far without someone being ejected.”

Swope hit a player in the midsection. The officials rules he used the crown of his helmet. The film proved Swope used his shoulder.

Wittenberg had another player ejected Saturday, linebacker Nick Gibson. Fincham said that was a legitimate call. Gibson hit the quarterback in the head. It might not have even been a penalty years ago. Now it’s an ejection.

“Three years ago, they started the 15-yarders for hits above the head,” Fincham said. “I think it probably would have gone down as a 15-yard penalty. It wasn’t as solid a blow as what it could have been. He just kind of caught his helmet at the right angle.”

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