New NCAA Targeting Rule in the Eye of the Beholder
Auburn Line backer Kris Frost is cheered by fans as he leaves the field.
Ever since Auburn Defensive back Jonathan Mincy was ejected from the spring game for being flagged for targeting, I’ve wondered when we would see a player thrown out during a regular season game.
Well it only took two games as the answer came Saturday night when Line-backer Kriss Frost was ejected after a late hit on Arkansas State Quarterback Adam Kennedy. The penalty prevents him from playing in the first half of the SEC opener against Mississippi State.
As you might expect, it was a very unpopular flag with the home crowd. Fans voiced their displeasure for the call with a chorus of boos. Most felt like it was just a football play. After all replays showed no helmet to helmet contact. If anything, most expected Frost to be called for roughing the passer or a late hit but not targeting.
Fans were not the only ones confounded by the call. Defensive End LaDarius Owens said Sunday. “I saw it but I guess I didn’t understand the rule. I thought it was if you led with your helmet. I just thought he gave him an elbow or something.”
Well what Owens and the rest of us learned Saturday is two things: One, the crown of the helmet does not have to be involved. Frost made contact with his arms above the shoulder. Second, and more importantly, what constitutes a violation of the targeting rule is in the eye of the beholder (the official’s eye that is). Here-in lies the problem. What’s a violation in one refs eyes may not even be a personal foul in another.
Take for instance when North Carolina’s Brandon Ellerbe drove his helmet into the helmet of South Carolina punt returner Vic Hampton as he lay defenseless on the ground and — was not flagged for targeting. Or when Washington State’s Deone Bucannon (who has a rep for making hard, high tackles) put one on Auburn Running back Corey Grant in the Tigers’ opener and — was not flagged for targeting.
In fact, time after time Cougar defenders were bringing down Auburn runners with high hits that were obvious to everyone in the stadium – except the refs. At times it look like the defender was trying to tear an Auburn player’s head off – yet no one was flagged for horse collaring much less targeting. Those hits were much more egregious than the one that resulted in getting Kris Frost ejected from the Arkansas State game.
Frost hit was borderline at best and certainly not worthy of ejection. From where I sat, it appeared he was committed to the tackle but pulled up and shoved off on Kennedy. He probably should have drawn a flag for a late hit or maybe even roughing (cough cough) the passer but it wasn’t deserving of an ejection.
The rule has been on the books for five years (without ejection being a part of the penalty) but last season there was only one targeting violation in all of college football. The first weekend of this year there were six. I tend to agree with Jeric Griffin of Rant Sports who said, “Either call it when it’s warranted or don’t call it at all. The only time that it’s really warranted is if a player is intentionally trying to hurt another player. That’s what the name implies, right? Typical NCAA hypocrisy.”
Don’t misunderstand, I support the targeting rule. How could someone not support a rule designed to protect players from serious injury. It’s the inconsistency that comes with human judgment that I question. At some point a league or national championship game may be affected by a ref’s call that even he is doubtful about.
The Southeastern Conference Coordinator of Officials Steve Shaw said this summer that, “The rule book says that, when in question, (or there is doubt) it’s a foul.” So in other words a player can be ejected even when the ref himself is in doubt.
This ought not be the case. What the NCAA should do is change the rule to read helmet to helmet and flagrant use of the arms or elbows to inflict hits to the head shall result in ejection.
Leading with the helmet and head hunting should not be tolerated. However, to suspend a player for an entire game when no helmet to helmet was involved for what may at best be unnecessary roughness or inadvertent arm contact above the shoulders is not right. It’s just too much of a judgment call by the officials. Besides, football is a rough game, that’s why they call it a contact sport.