For the 2013 college football season, the NCAA announced the targeting rule that would eject players from the game for hitting a player in the head with excessive force, carelessness or an intent to hurt. Players would be ejected from the game for “targeting,” and the officials would review the penalty to see if it actually was targeting. However, since then, the targeting rule has been enforced horrendously and is an embarrassment for college football. The rule was created as an overreaction to concussions. The NFL, which has a much bigger concussion problem than the NCAA, does not have a targeting rule. Every week in the NFL, you see players commit what would be targeting in college football. A lot of times, those plays are lauded by the announcers as good football plays despite defensive players lunging towards ball carriers with their helmets first. You rarely ever see penalties for helmet contact in NFL unless it is extremely obvious and excessive.
College football refs have become soft and if a player, especially a quarterback, happens to get touched in head, there’s a good chance that player will be ejected.
The inconsistencies between officiating crews on this rule is an absolute joke, too. What is targeting in one game isn’t in another. Now, college football refs have long been absolutely terrible at doing their jobs, but this rule has given them the chance to make even bigger fools of themselves.
This past weekend, America got to witness possibly the worst and most disgraceful call in college football history. This disgrace of a call took place in the Michigan versus Michigan State football game. Michigan senior linebacker and team captain Joe Bolden was ejected for “targeting” in the first half of the game. Going into the game, Bolden was Michigan’s leading tackler and one of the anchors behind a defense that hadn’t allowed a point in almost three games.
On the play in which he was ejected, he was pushed in the back by a Michigan State offensive lineman and fell on top of the Michigan State quarterback who was lying on the ground. Watching the play live, I had no idea what the officials saw. I still have no idea how a referee thought the alleged hit was targeting and not just incidental contact due to being pushed. There was no malicious intent by Bolden on the play, and he didn’t lead with his head: he just fell on top of the quarterback. After the penalty was called, the play was reviewed in the booth by Big Ten replay officials.
The commentators and pretty much the rest of America thought the targeting call would be overturned due to common sense and the context of the situation. But common sense has always been too much to ask of out of college football referees, so I don’t think anyone was surprised that they confirmed the targeting call.
That ejection changed the game: Michigan lost their star linebacker, and instead of forcing Michigan State into punting, the penalty gave them a first down, leading to a touchdown to tie the game. Michigan State ended up winning this game on a botched punt, but Michigan probably would have comfortably won with their captain and leading tackler playing all four quarters.
After the targeting call was confirmed, there was outrage by fans at the game, the commentators and the millions at home watching the game. Even people who were cheering against Michigan felt bad for the player. Players from Michigan’s archrival, Ohio State, even expressed their displeasure of the call.
Now, the sentiment from coaches and members of the media is that the targeting rule needs to be fixed as officiating crews are clearly not able to identify what targeting actually is. These ejections change games, and it’s unfair to the players for such lapses of judgement to hurt their team’s chances of winning.
Hopefully during the offseason, the NCAA rules committee scraps the current targeting rule and comes up with something else. Protecting players is right, and there are several plays a week that are correctly called targeting, but the inconsistences in officiating can ruin team’s seasons. For Michigan, the incorrect targeting call was a big factor to their now non-existent College Football Playoff chances.