A topic that causes many an eye roll has irked me lately, especially since it has the nation talking about Nebraska’s Foster Farms Bowl performance and not about the win. It’s a rule that is finding itself under more scrutiny every year: the targeting penalty.
According to the American Football Coaches Association — which is obviously trying to raise awareness of how to not commit this penalty — “No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.”
The horrifically subjective nature of the call is the very crux of the problem. Actually, let’s go deeper. Let’s look at just how vague the interpretation of this rule can be.
Nebraska safety Nate Gerry has been at the focal point of all this, so let’s have a look at a play he was involved in during the Huskers’ game against Iowa that was determined to have ended with a penalty.
While Gerry did initiate helmet-to-helmet contact, he didn’t use the crown of his helmet. In fact, he did just about everything he could to make the end result of the play as harmless as possible. He slid, took his head to the side and made contact with his shoulder. There was no malicious intent on his part.
Have a look at the 29-second mark to see an excellent angle of this.
For those of you who watched the Foster Farms Bowl, you know where I’m going next. For those who didn’t watch Nebraska defeat UCLA, you do, too. Let’s see what that day’s crew (one previously suspended by the ACC) felt was a call worthy of ejecting Gerry.
This absolutely sickens me. Gerry made one of the most textbook examples of a tackle and is flagged. He wraps up with his arms, drives through, doesn't connect with his head and puts some mustard on the hit. This is then punished. Why?
The game of football has been tainted by the group that says, “When in question, it is a foul.” I understand player safety, but football is a game of physical risk. Ligaments get torn (sometimes several at once), clavicles get broken, players are carted off the field on stretchers and no flags are thrown.
Negative press surrounding the game today is scaring referees from properly doing their jobs. I appreciate the work of people like Dr. Bennet Omalu (who Will Smith portrays in the movie “Concussion” currently in theaters), but the targeting rule in its current state does not belong in football.
As a result, I can only offer one solution and that is to table it indefinitely. When a young man makes a picture-perfect tackle and is penalized for it, we have officially reached a point where a rule is infringing on the game.
If the NCAA Rules Committee wants to work in the interest of player safety, that’s great. It needs to hammer out a crystal clear definition of this infraction first, but it shouldn't end there.
Once the NCAA feels comfortable introducing the penalty again, a representative of the officiating crew (preferably the head referee) needs to be made available for post-game press conferences.
To paraphrase a colleague of mine (Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star), it is not illegal to ask a human being a question. These men and women need to be held accountable for their actions in both the public and professional arena.
This should result in potential suspension and even termination for multiple errors like what the Foster Farms Bowl crew had already been punished for. They should have lost their jobs.
Nate Gerry did nothing wrong and neither have countless other players that have been penalized and removed from games.
Eject the targeting rule and figure out what it’s supposed to be for the sake of everyone involved with it.