In 2018 the 130 schools that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) played just over 800 regular-season games. In those games 179 players were ejected for targeting.
For a lot of fans, that’s about 178 more ejections than there should have been.
Granted, it’s unscientific, but my email, text message and Twitter accounts indicate that fans really hate this rule. They say:
**--The penalty (an ejection that could last into the next game) is too harsh.
**--The penalty favors the offense. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a defender to tackle properly when the offensive player ducks his head.
**--The rule is applied inconsistently from officiating crew to officiating crew. Players have been thrown out of games on marginal calls.
But there is another point of view held by the folks who actually run college football.
They see court cases against the NFL that could force the league to pay over $1 billion in settlements to former players suffering from concussions and other football-related health issues.
“Someday I’m going be sitting in a court of law and an attorney is going to ask if I did everything I could to make the game (football) as safe as it could possibly be,” a former conference commissioner told me. “The answer to that question had damned well better be yes."
When the targeting rule was first put into place in 2013, the various heads of conference officiating were told in no uncertain terms: If your officials even THINK they see targeting, they better call it. And if they don’t call it we’ll put somebody on the field who WILL call it.
Everybody understood that under these conditions it was possible that some players were going to get ejected with violations that were on the margins. There would be some ejections that, upon further review, were not fair to the players.
“We can’t back away from targeting,” one official told me.
In fact, those who run college football know they can’t even be PERCEIVED to be backing away from targeting.
“The targeting rule has served us well. Player behavior is much better than it was several years ago,” said Steve Shaw, the SEC supervisor of officials and the secretary-rules editor of the NCAA. “But now we’ve matured in the process.”
So it may be time for an adjustment.
If given final approval by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) when it meets on April 17, college football will implement what we will call Targeting 2.0. The hope is that it is a compromise that makes both points of view on the targeting rule happy.
Don't count on it.
I’m not going to get too deeply in the weeds on this but here is the big change, if it passes: Previously, when targeting was called on the field, the replay official (which in the case of the SEC includes a three-person command center in Birmingham) will evaluate the specific elements or “indicators” that go into a targeting call. If any of those indicators cannot be confirmed by the video, then the targeting call will be withdrawn.
In the past, if there was not enough clear video evidence to overturn the targeting call, it would simply stand and the player would still be ejected. Under the new rule, the burden of proof would fall on the replay officials. Now video must clearly PROVE that all the elements of targeting are present or there will be no penalty. Last season about 10 percent of the targeting penalties were ones that "stood" instead of being confirmed. Those penalties will now be withdrawn.
“From our perspective the replay review changes will ensure that when a player is disqualified it is clearly warranted,” said Shaw.
With a higher threshold of proof required now for targeting calls, the NCAA rules committee decided to double down on repeat offenders. Under the new rule a player who gets a second targeting violation in the same season will not only sit out the rest of his current game, but will sit out the entire next game as well.
As you might imagine not everyone is fond of this idea.
The American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) wanted the NCAA to adopt a two-tiered targeting system like the one college basketball uses for flagrant fouls. Targeting 1 would be a 15-yard penalty basically for an unintentional foul. Targeting 2 would be reserved for egregious fouls that are clearly intentional. Under the AFCA's plan, players called for Targeting 2 would be ejected and subject to being suspended for additional games.
“We felt like it gave the officials on the field a chance to make the decision,” said Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “We’re just concerned about turning it all over to the replay official.”
Berry added: “We advocated for a multiple-game penalty for players who don’t change their behavior. But we’re concerned that a player could get called as a repeat offender when one—or both—of the calls are marginal.”
The feedback I'm getting is that the rules committee thought the Flagrant 2 call in basketball was so rarely used that it would not be applicable to football.
Berry said if the new rule is approved on April 17, the coaches would be willing to work with it for a year “and re-evaluate it.
"But I don't think any of this is final."
Just remember that number of ejections from 2018: 179. If this new rule passes, that number go up or down in 2019?