What College Football Rule Would Mike Gundy Change for 2018?

Written by Kyle Porter

I am confused about a lot of things when it comes to college football. I don’t know what the criteria for the CFP are (other than having buckeye stickers on your lid). I don’t know what a catch is. And I don’t know what targeting is.

I’m not alone.

First, the catch rule just for fun because it was so egregious.

Whatever, I’m over that (no I’m not). But let’s move on to the targeting rule.

OSU has been flagged for it with the calls upheld twice this season. We’ll look at both of those as well as the one in Bedlam against the Sooners.

The first was Calvin Bundage against South Alabama. Many people were angry. I actually thought it was the right call and a good one (and probably an obvious one).

Then there was the one against OSU late in Bedlam. Still probably a good call, but a less obvious one than Bundage.

And finally, on Saturday, Tre Flowers got tossed and will miss part of the Kansas State game on Saturday in Stillwater.

Gundy said on Monday that if he could pick a rule to change, it would be this one.

“I don’t know that I’m a big fan of these targeting rules,” said Gundy on the Big 12 media call. “As I watch it, I don’t see players intentionally trying to target. It’s because there’s such a severe penalty, I understand that, but there’s still the human element that’s making huge mistakes in deciding what a targeting actually is. I’m not real fond of that rule at this particular time.”

I think Gundy probably has a lot of advocates here, mostly because it seems so open for interpretation. The Bundage hit, I understand. Same with the OU hit in Bedlam (to a lesser extent). But the Flowers hit in Ames? I thought, come on. Until I read the rule. According to the actual rule, Flowers attacked the neck area of an opponent.

Here’s the official rule with some commentary from SB Nation.

Too often, a targeting call that results in the standard 15-yard penalty and automatic ejection leaves fans pointing out a lack of helmet contact, but the rules do not specifically require it. A helmet-to-helmet hit can be a targeting foul, but all targeting fouls are not helmet-to-helmet hits.

From the 2016 NCAA football rulebook, language that is unchanged from previous years (my emphasis added throughout):

No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) 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.

This specifies a hit with the top of the helmet, but not necessarily a hit to the opponent’s helmet.

No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent (See Note 2 below) with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul (Rules 2-27-14 and 9-6). (A.R. 9-1-4-I-VI)

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 indicators of targeting include but are not limited to:

  • Launch—a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area
  • A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground
  • Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area
  • Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet

The problem, obviously, is that no two hits are the same. Some are obvious (Bundage), some are less so (Flowers). One degree of difference in the way a player tackles can make all the difference between missing parts of two games and an incomplete pass. It’s pretty crazy, and difficult to both coach and ascertain.

I’m all for any rule that makes this ludicrous game much safer for those playing it so I tend to err on the side of “most targeting calls should be upheld and more should be called generally,” but it has to be frustrating as a coach to not know when your starting safety is going to walk back in the huddle and when he’s going to be out until halftime of the next game.

  • Bbjd

    I think the rule is good I think the ejection portion should just be on egregious hits. Of the 3 you posted only Bundage in my opinion (and it was close) should be ejected the rest just give 15 yards and call it a day.

    • Iceman

      I agree I just don’t think there’s any real way to distinguish consistently between those. I’d rather just not do ejections at all and stick with the 2 personal fouls=ejection rule.

  • Gallagher? I Hardly Know Her!

    Should be just like flagrant fouls in basketball. Targeting 1 and Targeting 2. Targeting 1 can be more liberally applied to most contact to head (with reasonable stipulations) and would be a 15 yard penalty same as DPI or anything else used to regulate play and encourage proper football technique and behavior. Each targeting should be reviewed (just like flagrant) to see if there was any launching or intent. Just like basketball, it will not totally remove bad plays or injuries, but it creates a more appropriate context in which to analyze and punish a foul with similar movement but vastly different intent and implication

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  • Marc Hensley

    Also they should do something about offensive players who drop their head going into a tackle and initiate contact with the crown of their helmet.

    • Jawbreaker

      I don’t think there’s anything you can do about this. Most of the time this is a natural reaction to brace for a hit coming from a efensive player.

      • Marc Hensley

        I think a lot of it is but there are some cases where the ball carrier is leading with his head. If the tackler is trying to get low to avoid the head and neck area the move can bring everything back into the strike zone.

        • Jawbreaker

          The offensive player is generally trying to protect themselves from injury. I don’t think the responsiblility should be put on the offensive player to avoid certain types of contact when 11 guys are trying to hit him.

          I don’t see anyone (ncaa, nfl, high school) ever putting the onus on the offensive player.

        • OSU Student

          I agree with Jawbreaker. They teach you to get lower than the defender in football, so you can use your legs to run through them, while protecting the ball. I don’t think the ballcarrier is doing it just so he can be intentionally hit in the helmet. The defender, though, is taught not to lead with their helmet. I think if their arms are out and they are clearly going for a wrap up and helmets just so happen to hit, let it go. But if the defender turns his shoulder and intentionally leads into him with his head/shoulder, it should be targeting.

          • skippy5403

            The problem here is , that as a defender if you’ve committed yourself to a hit that would be in the chest, but the ball carrier lowers his head into your, thats not the defenders fault.

          • AverageJeff

            Get your hands and eyes up and they can’t call it. It’s so simple, but I see tons of missed “tackles” every year because it’s a knockdown attempt and not a tackle. Tackling requires your hands and arms. Everyone wants to be Steve Atwater but it’s better to be more like RW McQuarters or Kevin Williams. Lead with your hands, arms and eyes…

          • OSU Student

            I guess that’s true. I just think that if anyone were to ever get called for intentionally lunging toward another player with his helmet in hopes of causing a big hit, it would be the defender.

      • Kenny Bir

        The penalty should not be enforced if they “brace for impact” plays.

        • Jawbreaker

          I think that would be a nightmare to try to enforce

  • Jawbreaker

    Actually I think the Budage hit in #1 isn’t targeting because if you look at the 3rd angle, his facemask is what makes the intial contact so its not the crown of the helmet. And the ball carrier wasn’t defenseless.

    In #2 I think thats pretty clearly targeting because Hill is in a defenseless position having stratched out for a tipped ball and the hit coming from behind. The OU player clearly leads with his head and shoulder to the head and shoulders of Hill. Although I think his initial helmet contact is with the side of his helmet rather than the crown. This is probably the most egregious of the three because the receiver is vulnerable and can’t see the hit coming and the DB takes a head shot when he easily could have gone for the body instead.

    #3 I think its clearly targeting within the rules although I don’t think its egregious, he was just high with his target. The receiver was in a vulnerable position having just caught the ball and was turing up filed but not as vulnerable as someone with their back turned. If he’s 3 inches lower he’s okay with that hit.

    I don’t have a problem with the rule it just needs to be enforced corrrectly (which is the trick with nearly all the rules). With a replay of every one of these hits they should get it correct but they don’t.

  • BBinKC

    But Tommy Tuberville said you are supposed to hit high???

  • Kenny Bir

    i Think suspending someone is a bit much in my book. Kids are just playing hard and try to time those hit to jar the ball loose. If it’s an OBVIOUS call than I’m for sitting (Running someone over fielding a punt, a WR jumping in the air, etc.)…

    The rule is a bit ridiculous in my book… those things are going to happen regardless if there’s a rule or not… it’s not a holding penalty where someone has to consciously GRAB a shirt.

  • CCC74955

    Totally agree about targeting. Not the rule necessarily, but the penalty. Tackles happen so quickly it’s impossible to avoid in some cases, but you’re going to take a guy out for half a game??

    Another pet peeve is that offensive players can apparently stiff arm defenders directly in the face, and never get called for face mask, illegal hands to the face or whatever rule you want to call.

  • OSU Student

    In my unbiased opinion, the OU and ISU targeting calls were both bad. By the rules, they were each targeting and they deservedly got ejected (by rule) but they shouldn’t be defined as targeting. In both cases, the defender was just trying to hit the receiver upon the ball’s arrival, and the receiver leaned their head into the defender. Just a bang bang play. Both could have been ignored. The Bundage one vs USA, though, was 100% targeting. Lol. Whitener already had the dude wrapped up and they were on their way down, and Bundage just came in, seeing the ballcarrier falling down, and without using his arms in any way slammed into him with his helmet. The hit wasn’t needed to make the tackle, he just wanted to hit him. That’s the only one that should have been targeting, IMO.

  • skippy5403

    At the very least the rule needs to be amended. Make the ejection part not automatic, if you want to keep the 15 yard penalty for all the various types of hits involved fine, but make the auto ejection on a case by case basis. I would definitely disagree that the OU call was less of a targeting than the Bundage call. 1) the WR was defenseless, the RB was not. 2) The OU DB clearly ducked his head into the WR’s, Bundage, while he did duck his head, the RB does to, and only slightly earlier than Bundage, I don’t have a problem with the call nor the ejection on either, but disagree with your claim of severity so to speak.

    As for the Flowers hit, thats not an intentional hit to the head. Its incidental, heres where keeping the 15 yard penalty is fine but the ejection is silly. I would even go so far as to say they should be able to remove the “first half of the following game” rule for plays in the second half, that were upheld but upon further inspection should have been negated.

  • AverageJeff

    Get your arms out to TACKLE instead of just hit…an I missing something? Football 101: keep your eyes on the target, wrap up and tackle…Chad Whitner anyone?

    • AverageJeff

      And that solves the targeting problem no rule change needed.

  • Nathan

    Football clearly has a problem when it comes to brain trauma. Targeting rules go too far at times, but the result of it is and will continue to be more attention given to avoiding the neck and head area – which is a major step forward toward the brain trauma issue. It’s frustrating on a small scale but the right thing to do on a macro level.