In these times when so much divides Americans, the targeting penalty brings college football fans together.
Just about all of them hate it.
The targeting foul turns 10 this season, though the real rage against it did not start until 2013 when player ejections became part of the penalty. The rule remains unchanged despite an offseason discussion of whether to eliminate ejections for certain infractions, and the effort to protect players is spreading: The NFL competition committee earlier this year approved automatic ejections for egregious hits to the head.
Targeting can be a difficult call for officials, a split-second evaluation of a high-speed collision. The 15-yard penalty that comes with it can drastically swing a game and losing a player to an ejection is a dramatic step. It does remain a relatively rare call. Even last year, when targeting fouls reached new highs in total (144) and per game (0.17), the number still amounted to only one every 5.83 FBS games played.
For many involved with college football, this seems a small price to pay to attempt to make the game safer — especially as studies on the toll football takes on the body and brain continue to yield worrisome results.
While it is impossible to quantify whether ejecting players has led to a decrease in the rate and number of head and neck injuries, those who play a part in shaping college football’s rules say they can see a difference in the way the game is being played.
“We can see clear changes in behavior of the players,” said Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of officials. “By that I mean, we see less of players just launching themselves like a missile at a guy’s head. We still see it sometimes, but you also see a lot of times when they’re coming in lower. They’re getting their heads out of the way. They’re making contact at the chest or in the…