College football targeting, explained: How controversial rule works, from penalty yardage to ejections – Sporting News

Perhaps no rule in organized sports is more hotly debated than the targeting rule in American football — particularly its application at the NCAA level.
Proponents argue that, as controversial as the rule may be, it is aimed at improving player safety: It’s an ever-growing point of emphasis in a collision sport such as football. Opponents argue that the application of the rule is too rigid, does not consider context and, more often than not, errs too far on the side of caution.
Regardless of where you fall in the debate, there is no denying the rule has been vexing not only to the players and coaches, but also to fans who do not know how the rule should be applied (often because of the lack of uniformity in how it’s called).
Sometimes, the application is obvious. Other times, it appears nebulous, with on-field and replay officials trying to judge whether a player was guilty of the infraction.
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Luckily, The Sporting News is here to provide clarity about the rule, its history and changes to it for the 2022 college football season:
Only one significant NCAA rule change has been implemented for the 2022 season, and it has to do with reviewing a player’s eligibility for his team’s next game after he is called for targeting.
Otherwise, the rule is the same, including its definition and the penalties for the infraction.
The 2019 edition of the NCAA rulebook defines targeting as “taking aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball.”
More specifically, Rule 9, Section 1, Articles 3 and 4 define targeting this way:
“Targeting and Making Forcible Contact With the Crown of the Helmet
ARTICLE 3. No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul. …

Targeting and Making Forcible Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player
ARTICLE 4. No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting. When in question, it is a foul. …
Note 1: “Targeting” means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball. Some indications of targeting (emphasis NCAA’s) include but are not limited to:
Note 2: Defenseless player (Rule 2-27-14). When in question, a player is defenseless. Examples of defenseless players include but are not limited to:
CONTROVERSY: Was Penn State LB Abdul Carter’s ejection the right call?
A targeting foul comes with a 15-yard penalty and, if the offending player is on defense, an automatic first down for the offense. If the foul occurs in the first half, the player is disqualified for the remainder of the game. If the foul occurs in the second half, the player is disqualified for the remainder of the game and the first half of the team’s next game.
If the foul occurs in the second half of the last game of the regular season, then the player is disqualified for the first half of the team’s postseason game or the first game of the next season, whichever comes first.
The NCAA in 2019 introduced a rule that calls for escalating punishments. If a player is called for a third targeting foul in the same season, the player is not only disqualified for the rest of the game, but also all of the next game. If such a foul occurs in the last game of the season, then the player will be suspended for the team’s postseason game or the first game of the ensuing season.
Targeting calls are reviewed by officials via replay, where available. If the play is called on the field and reversed in the booth, then the penalty will be negated and the player will remain in the game. Any other fouls that occur in conjunction with the targeting foul — overturned or not — are not affected by the review process.
As of the 2019 season, targeting reviews cannot “stand.” They must either be confirmed or overturned. That places greater emphasis on replay officials to ensure the play is called correctly.
For games where instant replay isn’t used and the player is disqualified in the first half, teams can agree to show officials a video to review at intermission. The referee can uphold the decision or reverse it, but their ruling will be final.
The NCAA approved a rule change for the 2022 season as it relates to reviewing targeting calls that are made in the second half of games.
Essentially, a player who is ruled to have been indirectly called for targeting can have their eligibility reinstated for the ensuing game. Per the NCAA:
In games that have instant replay, when a targeting foul occurs in the second half, the carryover penalty (of sitting out the first half of that player’s next game) will be eligible for further appeal.
The process will begin with a conference submitting a request to the NCAA national coordinator of officials, who would review video of the play. If it is obvious that a player was incorrectly penalized for targeting, the call would be overturned, and the player would be cleared to play in the first half of the next game.
MORE: USC kicker ejected for targeting on opening kickoff vs. Stanford in ’21
The targeting penalty was added by the NCAA in the 2008 season. Former NFL referee and Big East football officials coordinator Terry McAulay claimed the rule was introduced after pressure from Congress to reduce concussions and head trauma, among other football-specific injuries.
“There was a point where Congress called in the commissioner of the NFL and a lot of the college commissioners to address concussions, head, neck and spinal injuries,” McAulay said, via NBC Sports. “That was a wake-up call for everybody concerning player safety.”
The following major changes went into effect after the rule’s 2008 introduction:
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