In the 2016 season the Arkansas Razorbacks were on both sides of multiple targeting calls, some of which seemed sporadically enforced. The main underlying goal of the rule is sound in that it attempts to lower the number of avoidable shots to the head and neck. There are many of these hits that just are not avoidable, and it will take some time for a number of players to adjust to something that they have been doing since the beginning of their career.
What is the rule in College Football?
No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent (See Note 2 below) with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul (Rules 2-27-14 and 9-6). (A.R. 9-1-4-I-VI)
No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question it is a foul.
Note 1: "Targeting" means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball. Some indicators of targeting include but are not limited to:
Launch — a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area
A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground
Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area
Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet
Note 2: Defenseless player (Rule 2-27-14):
A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.
A receiver attempting to catch a forward pass or in position to receive a backward pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
A kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball, or during the kick or the return.
A kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
A player on the ground.
A player obviously out of the play.
A player who receives a blind-side block.
A ball carrier already in the grasp of an opponent and whose forward progress has been stopped.
A quarterback any time after a change of possession.
A ball carrier who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first.
The use of the phrase helmet to helmet is paramount to the problem that most fans have with the rule. In the first stage way back in 2005 “helmet to helmet” was the extent of the rule and ever since we have been picking every play apart down to the millisecond to see if the helmets collided. Subsequently any time helmet to helmet contact in other situations is witnessed we cry out “Targeting!”.
It would make more sense to separate “Spearing” or use of the crown of the helmet, with targeting.
Last season the Arkansas Defense had enough trouble getting off the field on its own, and 15 yd targeting penalties added to the struggle.
As a league there were 26 targeting calls with 16 reviewed and confirmed correct 5 overturned and 5 ruled as “call stands” where the penalty stays but the player is not ejected.
D’andre Coley was ejected twice last season for play involving targeting.
Then you have a play like this where Alabama Safety Eddie Jacksons’ ejection is overturned.
They all look uniform in how the play ended, and officials both on the field and in the review booth will be asked to make more consistent use of the rule.
At SEC Media Days, SEC Coordinator of Officials Steve Shaw went as far as defining what the crown of the helmet is:
“A lot of people had thought the button on the top of your helmet was the crown, but we really got clarification to say where the face mask bolts into the helmet there’s a halo that goes all the way around the helmet, and that’s really your crown.”
This was a big part of the reason many targeting calls were either overturned or not ruled as an ejection where officials were not counting the front of the helmet as the crown.
The biggest part of the rule that we often miss is the section that says “when in question it is a foul”. Not many rules in any sport are set that way but with such a focus on CTE, concussions and player safety officials are going to be constantly pushed to fall on the side of too many targeting calls rather than too few.