On an average prime-time Saturday night telecast, the game continues to be the star. TV ratings for college football are up across the board in 2021. We cannot turn away from the nation’s No. 2 most-watched sport.
Targeting, though, might be the uninvited guest to one hell of a televised party.
Week after week, analysts inevitably climb a soapbox to scream at the moon. That is, to rail against the targeting rule: how it’s applied, why it’s applied, and how it is ruining the game and football careers of young adults. That’s all assuming those analysts — in fact, all targeting critics — know what they’re talking about.
“That’s the argument you get from ADs, ‘This kid worked his tail off,'” said Steve Shaw, national officiating supervisor and secretary-editor of the NCAA rules committee. “‘He only gets 12 playing opportunities, and you’re going to take half a game away from him [by ejecting him]. It’s not right.””
While the critics bleat, little is said in the moment about the victims of those hits. That’s why the 13-year-old targeting rule is there in the first place, to address the ongoing concern regarding head trauma.
But criticizing targeting has become a media sideshow echoing across current amplified landscape. Those who scream the loudest get their point across.
It just doesn’t mean they’re right.
Away from those primetime lights, battle lines are being drawn. On one side are those who believe the targeting rule must at least be adjusted. The other side is worried about going too far. The middle ground is littered with the possibility of lawsuits, concussions, recriminations and no clear way to proceed.
“This is a fight for our game,” Shaw said. “If we just walk away, that would be the wrong answer. The commissioners [who oversee the game] are not going to let us do that. The question is: Can you create a penalty structure that keeps the same impact as the penalty now?”
The answer will be determined in the next few months. While the targeting rule will be addressed by Shaw’s committee this offseason as a matter of course, any change will be highly scrutinized considering what’s at stake.
“I don’t want to sound overly dramatic,” Shaw reiterated, “but the future of football is in this discussion.”
When the NCAA’s chief medical officer, Brian Hainline, was asked to comment on the targeting penalty, he declined.
“The NCAA loses almost all P.R. battles anyway,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who was not specifically referring to Hainline. “Let’s not lose the health and safety P.R. battle. If the worst-case scenario is we err on the side of protecting players, we’ll take that.”