NCAA May Fix Targeting Penalty, But Not Now

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The rule needs an obvious tweak, but it won't happen this fall.

The new rule system around the targeting penalty has been the most controversial new change in college football this year. I can't fault the intent behind it, particularly after having watched the Frontline documentary "League of Denial" this week.

Be that as it may, the rule has a very obvious flaw to it. The instant replay refs can overturn the ejection that goes with the penalty, but when they do, the 15-yard penalty still stands. I think the reasoning behind this choice was to try to both give refs confidence to throw the flag, because this particular judgment call won't be second guessed by having it reversed, and to prevent a mistaken flag from affecting the outcome of the game by ejecting a player unjustifiably.

It is obvious by now, if it ever wasn't, that this is a terrible setup. Last week, the NCAA decided that all targeting flags will have a review session to determine if an ejection is OK, and that is an institutional codification of second guessing targeting flags. Even before that, though, it stands to reason that if an ejection is overturned, the flag should be as well. The rule isn't written like in basketball where a foul that isn't flagrant is still a foul; it's either targeting or it's not, and if it is, it comes with an ejection.

NCAA head of officials Rogers Redding talked on the radio yesterday about how this situation will be addressed this offseason:

"Many times, what you see is, even though a player doesn’t actually make contact to the head and neck area, he still exhibited those elements of targeting," Redding said. "He still launched or threw his body in a manner that indicted more than a good, hard football play." ...

"Probably, in a few of those cases, I would feel like, yeah, it is a case that maybe the 15-yard penalty wasn’t merited. But in the other cases, it was. That’s something the committee is going to want to talk about when we meet in February, for sure."

It sounds like Redding is open to being more precise in the definition of targeting, and he might be fine with overturning a penalty if the ejection is being overturned too. However, any changes won't come before February.

So, it sounds like we're stuck with the targeting rule as it is today. It doesn't appear that the NCAA will amend the rule to allow for overturning the penalty when an ejection is overturned before the season is out, even though it's a simple change that basically everyone would welcome. Too bad.

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