17 College Football Targeting Penalties That Were Arbitrary And Infuriating

Any rule that leads to five-minute breaks in action so players can get ejected and then immediately un-ejected probably needs some fine-tuning.

Getty / Kevin C. Cox

What exactly is “targeting,” the foul that has bogged down countless college football games this fall? According to Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating and Fox’s resident all-around expert on football rules, targeting in college football is when “you attack a defenseless [opponent] by making contact with your helmet, shoulder or forearm to his head or neck area. It’s also a targeting foul if a player initiates contact with the crown of his helmet.”

And here’s what happens when targeting is called:

- If a targeting foul is committed in the first half of a game, it’s a 15-yard penalty and that player is disqualified for that game.
- If a targeting foul is committed in the second half of a game, it’s a 15-yard penalty and that player is disqualified for the rest of that game plus the first half of the next game.
- If a targeting foul is called but a coach challenges a call and officials use instant replay to decide the player didn’t commit targeting, that player can stay in the game — but a 15-yard penalty is still assessed.

You’ll notice from that third item that things are already getting a little weird. Now let’s look at the calls.

1. Ejected.

This is pretty much the definition of targeting. The quarterback is giving himself up and the hit is both high and late, plus he leads with his helmet. All kinds of wrong here.

2. Ejected.

Whoa. Clearly targeting. Not sure what that guy was thinking…

3. Ejected.

Helmet-to-helmet: Check. Defenseless receiver: Check. Definitely targeting.

4. Ejected.

Looks like a high shoulder to the receiver’s head, on top of being a late hit.

5. Ejected.

He lowered his head and led with the crown of his helmet for the tackle. Targeting.

6. Ejected.

Hmmm… it’s a big blindside block, but I’m not sure if it’s targeting…

7. Ejected.

Looks like he was pulling up and just threw a shoulder into the receiver.

8. Ejected.

There’s a collision of helmets, but I don’t think that’s targeting. I’m not really sure how else you would make that tackle.

9. Ejected.

That’s simply a strong tackle, right? That’s not targeting.

10. Ejected.

He launched himself at the receiver, but the hit wasn’t to the head or the neck area.

11. Ejected.

Late hit? Yes. Targeting? No.

12. Ejected.

This is a joke. I still can’t believe he was ejected for this. Absolutely ridiculous.

13. Called targeting but overturned on review.

I can see how this was originally called for targeting.

14. Called targeting but overturned on review.

Not sure why this was called in the first place. Both players were going for the ball and collided with each other. Remember, all the teams below who had targeting penalties revoked still had to take a 15-yard loss on the original call.

15. Called targeting but overturned on review.

High hit, but that’s clearly not to the head or neck area.

16. Called targeting but overturned on review.

Not sure what the refs saw on this one. Not even close to targeting.

17. Called targeting but overturned on review.

Apparently you can’t make big hits without getting called for targeting.

18. Called targeting but overturned on review.

Now, this one looks like the defender DID use his head on purpose.

19. Ejected, but suspension later overturned.

Wait. What? So the conference can overrule the suspension if they disagree with the ejection? This rule is so dumb.

20. Not a penalty.

A hit with the crown of the helmet directly into the quarterback’s chin and solar plexus. It certainly seems like a penalty.

21. Not a penalty.

How is this not textbook targeting?

22. Not a penalty.

I give up.

To review, there seemed to be something obviously wrong (or at least questionable) with 17 of the 22 examples we could find. There’s no way this rule sticks around for another season, right? There’s just no way something this inconsistent and controversial can last.

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