Targeting the targeting rule

I know I risk coming off sounding like I’ve got a mouthful of sour grapes here, but that’s not my intention.  Really, this post isn’t inspired by the two awful calls that went against Georgia yesterday so much as it is by a non-call I saw in last night’s LSU-Ole Miss game.  It came on a play when it was clear that two players came together in a moment of awkward, random helmet contact.  Hugh Freeze screamed bloody murder about it, but there was no call. In fact, the crew chief went out of his way to state there was no targeting involved on the play.

All I could think when I saw that was “judgment, it’s a wonderful thing”.

I get the pressure the NCAA is under to do something about the concussion issue.  I don’t think any right-minded person can object to well-minded efforts to protect the long-term health and well-being of players.  The problem we’re seeing, though, isn’t because of protection.  It’s because the NCAA has chosen with the way it’s constructed the targeting rules to go after players’ intentions when they strike another player to change those. And therein lies the rub.

Officials aren’t mind readers.  To expect them to know what’s in the heart of a kid who makes a play, often in split-second conditions, while being pressured by coaches on the sidelines and fans in the stands, is asking for something that’s less than reasonable.  And I think officials and their conference supervisors knew just that when the new regime was imposed upon them by the NCAA and raised Cain in response.  Which is how we got this absurd review framework that lets a penalty stand even if the targeting call is overturned.  It’s nothing more than a fig leaf created to enable officials not to feel constrained to throw a flag for targeting.

But that’s not the most absurd part of this.  Consider the SEC’s response to the Drew penalty, which was upheld by the replay official.

Here is the statement in verbatim, including the capital letters:

“Rule 9-1-4. No player shall target and initiate CONTACT TO THE HEAD OR NECK area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow OR SHOULDER. By rule, when in question, it is a foul.

“Also note that a replay official must have indisputable video evidence that there was no such contact to overturn the call on the field.”

The wrong word is capitalized there.  The key word is TARGET.  You see the dilemma that’s been created here.  The penalty is made as severe as it is – a possible ejection and a resulting penalty even if no foul occurred – because the NCAA’s stated purpose is to stop players from intending to hit other players in certain dangerous ways.  But the review official is only looking at whether contact in a particular form took place.  In other words, once a flag is thrown for targeting, the hit itself is the sole evidence of intent.

This is incredibly counterproductive for two reasons.  First, if you’re trying to change players’ hearts and minds about how they hit and tackle, this accomplishes little, because the players and their coaches will realize soon enough that even after they change striking behavior, the mistakes and penalties will still happen.  And second, you’ve given the officials no incentive to try to discern the intention behind the contact, because they know that the guy in the replay booth will only be looking to make sure that wasn’t an obvious mistake by the official who threw the flag about the physical evidence and that the penalty will still be marked off, consequences be damned.

I would call this insane, but I think the NCAA is scared shitless about losing a concussion lawsuit and “err on the side of caution” are the words they want everyone to live by.  If the cost for that is the occasional screw job we saw Georgia get yesterday, that’s the price of progress.  That’s why I expect Steve Shaw’s comments about those two calls to be muted, assuming he makes any public comments at all.  (Sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few quiet off-the-record words about being more careful get directed towards that LSU-Ole Miss crew, too.)  And I wouldn’t be so convinced that offseason changes to the targeting rule are a slam dunk.  Bean counters rule, man.

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76 Comments

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76 responses to “Targeting the targeting rule

  1. South Carolina got screwed on a targeting call as well yesterday. Lost Marcus in the first quarter for the entire game.

  2. SouthGaDawg

    College Football is the world’s worst at “point of emphasis.” Anyone remember the AJ Green excessive celebration (of course, we all do)? This Drew penalty will go down in the pantheon of “point of emphasis” stupidity along with the Green celebration. BTW, does anyone else think that Tim Brando is a complete asshat? I thought he was supposed to just do play by play yesterday – not run his talk show through the broadcast – He and the color guy made some true imbecile points on the targeting penalty in general.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      The race to win the East has become a “handicapper horse race.” The refs are deciding the impost. Georgia had theirs doubled on Saturday afternoon.

  3. Baitstand

    Simple solution: big Nerf helmets. That wouldn’t harm the integrity, enjoyment, or competitiveness of the game any more than they’re being harmed now.

  4. Heathbar09

    Here is my big issue. Not overturning the penalty. If replay determined that Ramik didn’t target the defender, then why does UGA still have suffer the penalty? Especially a 4th down one like that. Either it’s targeting, player ejected and keep the penalty OR no targeting and no penalty. That is where I am hoping there is some change. It make ZERO sense to say “there is no foul for targeting, but we’re still penalizing UGA for targeting.”

    • Athens Townie

      Agree.

      “You are not guilty of this crime, but you will be serving the maximum allowable sentence for such crime anyway.”

      Justice is served!

      • Heathbar09

        I’m perplexed that someone thought this was a good idea to begin with.

        • mwo

          It used to be that when a receiver ran a 5 yard route across the middle he EXPECTED to get drilled by a defender whose primary objective was to separate said receiver from the ball. I wonder if the SEC officials were told by the office to call any hard hits due to Missouri’s vaginesque coach sending film in from last week’s game.

          • mwo

            Ronnie Lott, Jack Tatum, Scott Case, Greg Blue, Thomas Davis, or Sean Jones. These guys could not play football the way they did under today’s rules.

          • I Agree. I think the refs were looking to make calls against the Dawgs because of the input sent in by the Mizzou coach. They showed the Dawgs that they were aware of how they played. The Refs were wrong.The Dawgs Turn to Officially complain,

  5. timphd

    I am a psychologist by training and profession, and even with that reading someone’s “intent” is a tricky proposition. In the old days of clothesline tackles to the neck it might have been possible. I have watched Drew’s hit over and over. I not only don’t see “intent”, I don’t even see a blow to the “head or neck area”. If they were going to call anything it could maybe have been that he hit after the pass was away, but jeebus, I couldn’t believe the “targeting” call. This has to be revised for next season, if not before. Wilson’s was even worse. It was a good clean football play. It’s hard not to be paranoid when it always seems to be happening to your team at critical moments of the game. Of course, having a punt snapper who is competent would have eliminated some of this angst, now wouldn’t it?

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      The ref was reaching into his pocket for the flag BEFORE Drew hit the QB, too. Wilson’s hit was a clean shot leading with his shoulder to the shoulder of the opposing player. What was Wilson supposed to do, just let the guy catch the pass? Both appear awfully suspicious. there was intent to target here alright, but the intent was from the refs to target Georgia.

  6. VanDawg

    http://deadspin.com/this-is-the-worst-targeting-call-of-the-college-footbal-1448364296

    Some have been looking at the replay and pointing out that the ref began pulling the flag before Drew initiated contact. For some reason, it seems he was preparing to call targeting before the play had even been made. He had no clue whether Drew would let up or not, and I can’t figure out any explanation for it. Any ideas of why the ref planned on making a call before anything occurred? It’s obviously too late to matter, but the refs shouldn’t be making up their minds to call a penalty without a penalty. Makes no sense.

    • Scorpio Jones, III

      No it makes no sense, but I GUESS he thought it MIGHT happen, being closer to the live action…I thought Ray was gonna hit him at the time it happened.

      Unfortunately the “Grassy Knoll Flag” seems to give credence to the black helicopter brigades.

      In the previous thread we’ve been arguing the rule language, and the only thing that makes sense is that the ref had doubt so he dropped the flag.

      FWIW, Drew’s shoulder does appear to make contact with the QB’s face mask…

      It seems the ref holds the flag long enough to see the QB getting knocked back three or four yards, then drops the flag.

      So if the ref is told to drop the flag if he does not know what to do (“doubt”), then he dropped the flag as he is instructed.

      • The Lone Stranger

        I love you generally SJ3, in a robust normal sporting way of course, but you ought to let up on this. The ruling, the referee in question and even the “spirit” of this rule are wrongheaded and negatively impactful on this game over which we obsess.

        BTW: you’ll need an extra heavy kettle before Nov. 2.

        • Scorpio Jones, III

          Ok, Ok, Ok….this is me, letting up….on this stupid fucking implemetation of a stupid fucking rule that was cobbled together by people who have no fucking idea what the rule means at the speed of modern football.

          To say to an official, if you have any doubt, throw the flag is insane.

          And, when the other officials, the ones in the replay booth say “Dude, you were wrong to throw the flag,” that the yardage of the fucking penalty stands simply compounds the insanity.

          I am letting up…truth is if we had beaten Vandy I coulda proly let up earlier, and now I have to go find a new hat (yet again), a new kettle and seek the advice of Larry Munson if I can get him to answer his email.

          • The Lone Stranger

            LOL … awright, that’s the ole Scorpio! It’s weird, but I continue to hold out hope that Missouri nosedives and the Dawgs pull through once Gurley is back in the mix.

            • Scorpio Jones, III

              Barring an earthquake that swallows Columbia, Missouri, I don’t think thas gonna happen…Da Tigahs got the bit in their teeth….oh, the end of Bama’s season looks like a Tiger hunt.

      • Athens Townie

        I’m just speculating, obviously, but I am guessing that the ref was thinking about throwing a flag for holding until he saw Ray’s chest bump.

        • The Lone Stranger

          Horrible in its implications, but it’s the Dawgs after all!

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          If that is the case, then the ref should have thrown 2 flags (they are supposed to carry more than one), one flag for holding and one flag for targeting.

          • uglydawg

            That’s very probable Mayor…or he might have been looking for anything to call just in case Vandy didn’t convert and Drew gave him the best opportunity…I say the guy needs to be fired or at least have to go to Athens and stand in front of the team and explain why he was pulling that flag.

            • Mayor of Dawgtown

              I think he should have to stand in front of a grand jury under oath and explain why he was pulling that flag.

  7. Connor

    The rule is mostly nonsense, but you’re probably correct that most of it won’t change. My meager hope is that they remove the ejection component. Call it something else, but it’s completely unfair to have a player forced to leave the field in disgrace for something like that.

  8. Ed Kilgore

    There are obviously two separate issues here: how the new rule is implemented and coordinated with the review system, and whether the NCAA is right is taking drastic measures to deal with head injury research and/or litigation.

    On the first issue, no one can defend the existing regime, as yesterday’s two calls in Nashville attest. But on the second, I think we’ll see fans quickly divide b/t those who see a problem with head trauma and those who see head trauma as the essence of football.

    Senator, I don’t think it’s right to say it’s just about the litigation. There is an underlying issue we need to deal with that is an existential threat to the game, and perhaps should be.

    I’l been telling myself I was going to just put the subject out of my mind and enjoy one more season without worry and see if the NCAA made it easy to give up CFB by reacting stupidly to this and several other problems (the demand for player compensation and the money-driven frenzy for a big playoff system). They are mishandling almost everything, predictably, but we do need to ask ourselves if (a) football is going to turn out to require asking players to engage in the equivalent of 13 heavyweight championship fights a year, and (b) we mainly enjoy football for the big hits.

    But blaming it all on the NCAA’s money-lust or (as a lot of fans seem to be doing) some sort of godless liberal effeminacy won’t cut it.

    • why not?…it works for me.

    • Ed, I’m not accusing the NCAA of doing a Scrooge McDuck imitation here, as seems to be the case with how it’s handled O’Bannon. I really do think the people running college football are scared to death of what the concussion cases could cost them and whether it might swamp the whole system. But that’s only one part of the mess. The other part is how they’ve structured the targeting regime from a practical standpoint to protect the refs more than the players. And as long as the NCAA is convinced it needs the latter to protect the former, I don’t see much incentive for change.

      • Ed Kilgore

        Couldn’t agree with you more, and there’s no question the NCAA could screw up a one-car funeral. But I’m hearing a lot of fans complaining not about the targeting regime but the possibility that the game will have to change from what it’s always been. And I can sympathize with today’s players: you are trained and richly awarded your entire life for the big, intimidating “hit,” and suddenly you have to think twice about it.

        To make it even more complicated, there’s this sneaking suspicion that the targeting rule is partially responsible for what (at least to a Dawg fan) seems like an apocalyptic number of knee injuries.

        Any way you slice it, this is, as I feared it would be, a sort of Day of the Locusts year in CFB. But I think it’s more productive to look at the head-injury issue head-on, so to speak, instead of suggesting the only issue is the stupid NCAA or some conspiracy to, as a blogger at another Dawg site put it, “emasculate the game of football.”

        • Well, that’s what you get for reading another Georgia blog. ;)

          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            Senator, I realize I am a bit late with this but it is on point with your analysis in this thread hence I place it here. I agree “target” is one operative word in the rule. However “initiate” is the second operative word. The phrase is “target and initiate” contact to the head or neck. There are 2 components and you have to have both to invoke this rule. First, the player must “target” which is subjective (i.e. in the mind of the official). The second component is “initiate” which is objective. To me this means that the initial contact has to be to the head or neck area and it must be done on purpose by the offending player. If there is just incidental contact with the head or neck, that should not be enough to warrant invoking this rule. Look at the Drew situation: Th initial contact was between Drew’s forearm and the chest of the Vandy QB, not to the head or neck area. It also does not appear Drew is trying to “target” the QB’s head. There was just incidental contact between Drew’s facemask and the side of the QB’s helmet. These refs and the SEC are misapplying the rule based upon the plain language of the rule itself.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          Ed, a good case can be made that this rule and its aftermath are at least in part responsible for the point explosion in CFB this season. The O plays at full speed, the D is supposed to play at full speed but not hit certain players that are also moving at full speed too high. Thus, the D players now have to, in reality, back off. That’s enough of an edge for some really fast guys to have an edge to get away and run for TDs.

          • The Lone Stranger

            You make a reasonable point in that inference. It’s something I had scarcely considered until now. Similarly, would this knowledge not also lead to much more tentativeness when drawing up defenses? I think possibly yes.

        • Chopdawg

          I’m wondering if the “targeting” rule might have the reverse overall effect on CFB…how vulnerable is a player who’s playing under the knowledge that he might be penalized and ejected for what have been heretofore considered “reasonable” football hits? Might he be more cautious & hesitant, especially when contact is imminent, & therefore be more susceptible himself to serious injury?

          (Just getting my lawyer language ready, in case I’m called to testify.)

    • The Lone Stranger

      Man, that was poetic turn-of-phrase, “godless liberal effeminacy”. I think I like it enough to steal!

  9. Scorpio Jones, III

    “existential threat to the game, and perhaps should be” That’s well put. If, for instance, the hit had been on Aaron Murray, how would I feel?

    I think the answer to that is obvious because I have been in that position, yes Nick Fairly, you bitch, I am talking about you

  10. This rule is both unworkable and incomprehensible….Will someone please tell what Remik did wrong other than make such a good hit that the crowd grown makes the ref feel compelled to throw a flag. As limited as my understanding is that hit looked exactly like what the NCAA/officials were advocating at preseason camps . That hit should,in fact, be celebrated and rewarded to show the DB’s and LB’s the you can both decleat and separate a receiver from the ball WITHOUT targeting the head or leading with the head. That call made me throw something at the TV for the first time since the Goff era. I too am starting to see men on the grassy knoll…timphd I think I might need your help.

  11. doofusdawg

    They are not bean counters. They are politically correct anti traditional pawns of the left wing in this country. They don’t like football because it is violent, racist and sexist.

    The funny thing is that if the sec continues it’s demise and gives hope and championships to the rest of the country… maybe they will start to like the game a little more. But regardless, their primary concern will always be their politics and their pensions.

  12. Will Trane

    Consistenly called? No. Ask Georgia ST coach and Collin Barber when he got nailed in UT endzone when he got up and came across the endzone. UT had already scored.

  13. Will Trane

    Saw Freeze come on the fiedl to argue for call. SEC needs to institute the MLB rule on called balls and strikes. Coach comes on the field to argue a call or celebrate gets ejected, atuomatically. Perhaps that would tone down some of this.

  14. Will Trane

    over the years dawgs have had their share on offense, and never a late hit, illega hit, or roughing. that is why i factor refs out even though they can impact the out come of a game and we had our share of those. Should have been offsetting penalties on Drew play. Looks as if he was held. But helmet stickers to LSU DB for holding.

  15. Will (the other one)

    The only thing I’m sure of is it won’t be called (and not overturned) against any Bama player this season, especially now.

  16. Will Trane

    Lot of alums think 2013 is a lot like ’65 and ’69 re injuries. Just maybe Dawgs should start getting ready for ’14. And Will [the other one], you are absolutely right about that Hearing status of Conley and Josh Harvey are not good. Are they lost for season, too. Young D needs PT to get better. That did not happen for 2 in Vandy.

  17. 69Dawg

    If the NCAA and the NFL were really concerned with the player’s safety they would mandate the use of the foam covered helmet with built in sensors that track the cumulative impact effect on the wearer. This is not their way, instead they are attempting to show through unenforceable rules that they care. They are engaged in a public relation campaign to soften the potential liability that is coming. The law suit has already been filed and if it is allowed to become a class action the end of intercollegiate football is nearer than we think. Meanwhile the Captains of this Titanic just keep rearranging the deck chairs.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      I agree 69. The rule is not really about player safety. The rule is about NCAA lawyers being able to go into court and have something to point to being done about head injury by the NCAA. It is a sham.

    • MurphDawg

      Why not go back to playing without helmets a la Rugby? Definitely make people less likely to lead with their head. This makes about as much sense as what they are doing now…..

  18. Willin

    Saw several high-hard hits in the A&M vs Auburn game yesterday. No flags thrown.

    • The Lone Stranger

      You know, Vanderbilt players aren’t as well equipped to protect themselves. So they got an added layer of comfort during yesterday’s game.

  19. IveyLeaguer

    There are two horrendous flaws in the targeting rule set:

    1. When the targeting call is overruled, the 15-yard penalty for an infraction that never was committed still applies. This is, by far, the worst part of the rule, and why any rules committee member who voted for or participated in this rule should be ejected and banned from rules participation forever.

    2. The other is that, in the name of safety, officials should call a rule even if it’s just remotely close. This, in effect, causes officials to throw flags when perhaps they normally wouldn’t, to cover their arse, and also to suspect any big hit to the point they throw the flag.

    It’s the worst rule ever enacted, and it’s consequences, such as changing games even when there is no infraction, were easily anticipated by anyone with half a brain.

    That is what happened to Georgia yesterday, and the impact of these horrendous calls was, most likely, sufficient to cause Georgia to lose the game. Now there were other things, like the ST gaffes, the late fumble, and some others, that were enough in themselves to cause Georgia to lose. That’s how poor and sloppy the game was played.

    But that doesn’t excuse the terrible calls and their impact on the game. What happened yesterday is a combination of a terrible rule and poor officiating.

    Further, the excuse we keep hearing from TV people about how the rule is justified by safety concerns, is politically correct horse manure. The aforementioned flaws do nothing to increase safety or conformity to the rules.

    ~~~

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Ivey, you left off that the rule is so subjective that it opens the door to game officials who have an agenda using the rule as an opportunity to control the outcomes of games. Watch the actions of Referee Matt Moore as he is throwing the flag against Drew and tell me that there is not at least some evidence of an ulterior motive for that call. This stinks in the worst possible way. BTW, that particular Referee and that crew are notorious. I have been watching Moore and his crew doing questionable things in games (not just UGA games) for years. Now they have been given the ultimate tool for fixing a game if they want to use it.

      • mwo

        Does anyone have a phone number or e-mail address for Steve Shaw or any of the other douchebags in the SEC officials office? I need to spew some venom but want it to go where it needs to go.

        • Benito Mussolini

          It’s on the internet. Go to the SEC office site and click on employees. You may have to go through a series of clicks to find it but Shaw has an email address.

      • IveyLeaguer

        Scary.
        ~~~

  20. KitteryDawg

    Coach ‘em up. Just start going for the knees. Can’t risk going any higher

  21. S.E. Dawg

    Wonder why targeting is not called on every kickoff when both teams are running 90 to nothing at each other and there are collisions worst than some that have drawn the flag.

  22. Chuck

    My biggest problem with the rule is the uneven adjudication. As I said in another post, give me film of 10 other games yesterday and any group of reasonable people could find 15 other hits “worse” than either called on UGA players yesterday that didn’t draw a flag. I thought I was going to pass out during the Ole Miss game on the hit the Senator referenced. Far more apparent intent and unquestionable helmet to helmet — the most dangerous hit, right? — and no call.

    And if I’m a defender it seems the only answer to targeting is…well, targeting. Pick a tiny target on the player your’re about to hit, somewhere between his thigh pads and the bottom of his shoulder pads and hope he doesn’t lower his head at the last minute to cause helmet to helmet contact and get YOU called for targeting.

    I don’t want head injuries. I also don’t want flag football.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      The defensive player could go even lower, thigh to knee level, thereby totally avoiding the possibility of a targeting call for hitting the head and neck area. But that would cause knee and hip injuries. Is that really what we want?

  23. Ed Kilgore

    I think the question a lot of us have been asking ourselves is why the head-injury problem has so suddenly become huge. You can blame it on greedy lawyers and former players and “politically correct” officials if you want, but that doesn’t address the underlying medical realities. Has this been around all along and we just didn’t know about it or hadn’t heard about it, or has it taken it this long to accumulate the evidence, or does it have something to do with the evolution of the game?

    This last factor is a possibility. Those of you who read the book “The Blind Side” probably recall Michael Lewis’ argument that the superior evolution of offensive strategies led defenses to deploy the sports equivalent of The Nuclear Option with big, fast, violent pass-rushers who might or might not stop QBs from piling up yards but would definitely put the fear of God into them by maiming a few in especially vivid ways (this in turn led to the emergence of the freakishly large and quick left offensive tackle as a suddenly very valuable commodity). It may be that defenses more generally have come to rely on extraordinary violence (delivered by ever-bigger-and-faster players) as the only way to keep offenses from scoring 70 points in every game. Thus the increased intensity of football collisions, and in head (and other) injuries. Is that theory plausible?

    But just a final thought about lawyers and money: what this head-injury thing is beginning to remind me of (not the seriousness of it, of course, but the way it is emerging) is the Church Sex Scandal. It involves a problem that’s always been around on the periphery of our consciousness, and that’s been addressed in the past incrementally and indirectly (and ineffectively), but is now being forced into prominence by, yes, lawsuits and the fear of ruinous financial costs. We don’t dismiss the central moral issues in the Church Sex Scandal because of how the problem got exposed, and shouldn’t automatically do so here. No, I’m not comparing anything that happens in football to the sexual abuse of children, but do find the tendency to blame the judicial and financial messengers before we really understand what’s behind the cash nexus troubling in a similar way.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Ed, the “blame the lawyer” angle has been used for years for just about everything. There is a problem and those in authority ignore it, causing people to be injured. They want to continue to ignore the problem, usually because they are making tons of money because of it or in spite of it. The victims hire lawyers and bring the matter to the attention of the courts and the public. Those in authority then blame the “greedy” lawyers. I have witnessed this time and time again during my 40 years of law practice. From priests sexually abusing children, to exploding automobile gas tanks, to SUVs that roll over in routine driving, to birth control pills that make healthy women die of blood clots, they seek to cover things up rather than fix them. When the ugly truth gets exposed they then blame those who expose it. This rule isn’t really about player safety. It’s about NCAA, conference and university lawyers being about to go into court and point to this rule and say: “See what we did to protect players from head injury. It’s not our fault.” That’s why they don’t really care if the rule is fair. Fairness is not the object. Cover is the object.

  24. Biggus Rickus

    It’s an overreaction to an overblown problem. The long-term effects of concussions are not actually known at this point, and while it is a reasonable hypothesis that at least some mental issues later in life are tied to them, but what those are, how big a role concussions play and so on is not settled science. I think simply taking concussions more seriously as injuries was enough. They didn’t need to come up with rule changes to try to prevent them.

  25. Just Chuck (The Other One)

    I probably shouldn’t touch a keyboard when I’m as mad as I am right now. I had pretty much decided I could live with the targeting calls and even Drew’s ejection on Saturday. When I saw the SEC statement on Sunday, well insulted is a very mild description of what I’m feeling. How stupid do they think people are, especially anyone who’s watched the replay as much as we have. Anybody see contact to the head or neck? My eyes aren’t that young anymore but, . . And this quote from the replay official that he would have reversed the decision if Drew had wrapped up. Where in the rule does that come from? I’m about to start name calling so I better stop.