Targeting A Better Tomorrow

As joy and elation swept over the country for the opening weekend of college football, something was amiss. It almost felt if there was a lingering black cloud in each and every stadium, figuratively for some and literally for others. That very cloud was full of precipitation to rain on seemingly everyone’s parade.

What I’m getting at is even on the most exciting day of the year for some, there was arguably the worst rule in the sport to drown the excitement. In short, targeting has got to go because its ruining the game. Through this piece we’ll discuss the reasoning, as well as some alternatives.

Targeting Origination

The main purpose of the rule was to protect the players, but more so to impose a severe punishment for those guilty of “head hunting.” The penalty, besides the 15-yarder, is an ejection from just the current contest if in the first half, or the first half of the next game as well if the ejection occurs in the second half of the current game. It’s first season in 2013 felt like a nice start, but since then it has gone down an unrealistic path.

The rule which prohibits forcible contact to the head or neck area, launching, or leading with the crown of the helmet has been taken too literal on too many occasions. It’s even worse now that everything in college football can be reviewed, permitting an ejection even on a play that didn’t result in a flag. This scenario is how linebacker Ellis Brooks from Penn State received his ejection against Wisconsin: not from the call on the field, but by a booth initiated review.

Defensive Players Are Trapped

Far too often, a ball carrier has lowered his head to initiate the contact, but the defender has got caught for targeting because of a head-on collision. How is this even fair for a defender if the runner is lowering his head as a weapon? Look at Zamir White’s clinching run for Georgia against Clemson again if you need proof. Twice he lowered the full crown of his helmet to bull over a Clemson defender, allowing him to use the piece as a weapon.

Targeting Is Not An Injury Cover Up

It seems like every player who ends up hurting someone with a hard but clean hit faces the wrath of the replay booth. My issue is that if the hit didn’t warrant a penalty in real time with all the officials on the field, it shouldn’t be allowed to be reviewed. I’m all for reviewing and dismissing a targeting penalty if incorrectly called on the field, but this booth initiated review just to protect a player going down is getting out of hand.

Most of the announcers are over it at this point in the season already, and it’s only week two. Fans and even coaches are beginning to scream for it every time one of their players goes down. This is really ruining the game, and in all honesty, it looks like a poor attempt to get reconciled for an injury with an ejection as tribute.

How I See Targeting?

Even with all the fancy wording of the rulebook, I think targeting is very simple. The players have helmets on for safety reasons and anytime they touch, it doesn’t mean a player is targeting another. Any player attempting to “target” someone is going to do two things.

The first thing is that they launch themselves. That usually means both feet leaving the ground and almost getting horizontal in the air. The second is showing no attempt to wrap up, trying to inflict as much force with their shoulder pads or helmet as humanly possible.

The picture perfect example of targeting is Taylor Mays. In the 2009 Rose Bowl, USC safety Mays launched himself off the ground and destroyed Penn State wideout Jordan Norwood, as well as his own teammate Kevin Thomas. This deliberate act of trying to inflict as much damage as he could by turning into a human missile is how I view targeting.

These bang bang plays where guys aren’t leaving their feet, and happen to have helmets hit are not targeting. Another good example of what would be targeting is the play that ended NFL quarterback Trent Green’s career. Green was sliding and Robert Geathers maliciously drilled Green’s head with his shoulder, resulting in a massive head impact to the ground and horrible concussion.

These hits backed with malice are how I view targeting. A player can’t be ejected just because he hits hard and it’s scary. It’s a sport of collisions and needs to be treated as such again.

The Way Forward

The NFL does many things that I disagree with, however their unnecessary roughness against defenseless receivers is what should be adopted. These ejections are getting out of hand and obviously aren’t changing the intent of these players to play hard. Just the other night in the Ole Miss and Louisville game, four players got ejected for targeting and it wasn’t even halftime.

Also, the NFL has a “Crown Of The Helmet Rule” that has actually been called on ball carriers as well. If they lower the whole helmet to the point where the tip is facing the defender, it results in a 15-yard penalty. Players can still lower the shoulder but are not permitted to bull over defenders by leading helmet first.

Another possible alternative would be creating a no grey area policy. In the NBA, a charge cannot be taken under the basket if inside the half circle under the rim. It’s a straightforward policy and makes the game easier to officiate.

Maybe for college football, helmets can be tagged or outlined with an off limits hitting area. If the off-limits area of the crown makes contact, then throw the flag. This would create a no way around it policy if the player is indeed hitting with the top of the helmet, instead of staying head up on the hit.

The bottom line is that the ejections are ruining the game. There’s targeting in the trenches every single play by the way the rules are written, and there’s no reason to continue following a broken system. Instead of figuring out how college football can expand their playoff system, maybe the big brains can get together and figure out how to overhaul the most objective and broken rule in the game.

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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