Report: NCAA May Reconsider Ejecting Players for Committing Targeting Penalties

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IISeptember 28, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 07: A Wilson football displays a NCAA logo as it sits on the field before the start of the Big Ten Conference Championship football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 7, 2019, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A targeting penalty in an NCAA football game results in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic two-half ejection.

Coaches and players have expressed their concerns about the interpretation of the rule and the harshness of the punishment, with College GameDay's segment on the topic last Saturday serving as an example.

College GameDay @CollegeGameDay

"There's a difference between a guy making a football play and somebody deliberately trying to hurt somebody. We need to wake up."<br><br>Coaches and players weigh in on the controversial targeting rule. <a href="https://t.co/1Ln4CtzSUy">pic.twitter.com/1Ln4CtzSUy</a>

Now comes word from Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated that a targeting penalty may no longer lead to an automatic ejection, starting with the 2022 season:

"Among high-ranking college football leaders, there is movement afoot to at least consider an adjustment to the targeting foul's most harsh individual punishment—the ejection. In fact, the NCAA's own coordinator of officials, Steve Shaw, and a handful of conference commissioners as well as athletic administrators and coaches, expect the rule to be examined this offseason. By the time the 2022 season kicks off, the hope is that the policy looks different."

Per Dellenger, 105 targeting calls have been issued during the first three weeks of the 2021 college football campaign. Sixty were enforced, and 45 were overturned.

As James Best of NBC Sports wrote, "the 2019 NCAA Rule Book defines targeting as when a player 'takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or legal block or playing the ball.'"

Best added: "The NCAA targeting rule bans any forcible contact leading with the crown of the helmet or to the head or neck area of a defenseless player."

As Dellenger noted, however, there isn't universal agreement to any one alternative adjustment to the aforementioned targeting rule and punishment structure.

"I have not seen a sophisticated plan and structure," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said.

"I will be the first to say I’m open to alternative approaches, but they have to be grounded in eliminating these hits. The ejection and suspension from the next half of a game is a fairly blunt instrument, but it makes the point to change behavior."

Former NFL referee Terry McAulay has an idea that he posited in 2015 (via Best):

"Just like in basketball when you have a flagrant one and flagrant two. Targeting would have a level one and a level two. A targeting level two is a clear shot that is absolutely dangerous. Puts the player that's being hit or doing the hitting at significant risk of injury and there are no mitigating factors." 

That could be a good starting point, but for now, the targeting rule and its enforcement is guaranteed to be in place at least through the end of this season.