The targeting rule in college football needs to be blown up. It is ruining the greatest sport in the nation.
Now before some of you go all knee-jerk, I am not suggesting that safety be damned. I like most of the penalties put in for safety reasons. The facemask penalty? Great. The horse collar tackle penalty? No problem. After all, who wants to see star players get hurt and miss games? I sure don’t.
Here is the problem with the still fairly new targeting rule though. The problem is that no referees seem to know how to apply it. Some refs seem to think any time two helmets come together then a penalty flag must fly. If that’s the case then every single offensive and defensive lineman should get tossed after every play because the first thing they do when the ball is snapped is butt heads together, at least on every run play.
In the Vanderbilt-Florida game on 11/7/15, a Florida defensive player, Jordan Sharit, sacks Vanderbilt’s quarterback on 4th and 19 which sealed the win for the Gators. It not only sealed the win, but the SEC East Division crown and kept alive Florida’s hoped for a national championship. But wait, flag on the play! What’s the flag? Targeting. Yes, apparently when the defensive player made the tackle with his head aiming squarely for the QB’s shoulder pads, the QB ducked, bracing himself for the impact. This caused their helmets to hit. There was absolutely no intent to use the helmet as a weapon and no intent to go for the quarterback’s head on the play. Didn’t matter.
To make it worse, the replay refs upheld the call. So Vandy gets a new set of downs, Sharit gets tossed and will sit out the first half of next week’s road game at suddenly very tough South Carolina, and if Vandy had hit on one more play, would have cost Florida the game and any hope of making the college football playoffs.
This is not some insignificant penalty during a meaningless game we are talking about here. This could have had major implications on who wins the SEC East, the SEC and the National Championship.
This has not been isolate either. Was the Michigan-Michigan State game decided by a targeting call? No. But that targeting penalty was atrocious, went against Michigan costing them their best linebacker, and they lost the game. At the same time, Ohio State had a targeting call reversed on Joey Bosa in the Maryland game while the Terps were giving the Buckeyes all they could handle. His was much more egregious than the one on Michigan but he got to stay in the game and a 15 yard penalty was taken away. If Bosa gets booted, would Ohio State have lost? We will never know.
A good place to start with the refs is to explain to these guys the definition of “target”, which by definition requires intent. You shoot at a target trying to hit it. You don’t hit it while trying to do something else. If a player uses his head as a spear to try and deliver a crushing blow on a defenseless player, then by all means penalize him. But there is no need to kick a guy out of a game for trying to make a play to help his team win, with no intent on inflicting harm.
If what the Gators defender did against Vandy on a play where he is just trying to win the game is worthy of getting ejected, then just stop playing football in college. Put nets on the ground and a guy in different color uniform in front and have a bunch of place-kickers run around the field kicking a round ball and be done with it.