Targeting penalties remain roughly the same from last year
PHOENIX (AP) Two weeks into the college football season, fans have seen a lot of players ejected for targeting. That doesn't mean the penalty is being emphasized by referees.
''There just happened to be more in fan-interest games,'' NCAA coordinator of officials Rogers Redding said. ''Just from an overall, big picture, it's not that much different from last year.''
Through the first two weeks of the 2014 season, there were 14 targeting penalties in 158 games in the Football Bowl Subdivision, according statistics kept by the NCAA's officials. This season, there have been 19 in 163 FBS games.
The difference has been the teams involved, either receiving the hit or delivering it: No. 2 Alabama, No. 7 Georgia, No. 9 Florida State, No. 15 Mississippi, No. 18 Auburn, Stanford, Louisville and Colorado.
The high-profile teams and games made it seem like there were more targeting calls than there actually were.
''(There were) a lot of emotional games and hits,'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. ''They watched it last year and it was a huge point of emphasis and we didn't have a lot. We just have to keep going back as coaches and reemphasizing it.''
Targeting became a penalty in college football in 2008 to improve player safety.
The NCAA took it a step further in 2013, adding an automatic ejection in addition to the 15-yard penalty. All ejections were subject to video review and ejected players were forced to sit out the first half the next game as well. The rule was modified in last season, wiping out the 15-yard penalty if the ejection was overturned on review.
The key for officials is determining intent.
The speed at which football is played makes helmet-to-helmet hits inevitable. Even if a player goes in with the intent of hitting a receiver in the chest, a last-second change in direction or head movement can lead to an unintentional head shot.
What officials look for are what the rulebook calls targeting elements: crouching and hitting with an upward thrust; launching into a player to hit them in the head; contact above the shoulders on a defenseless player; leading with the crown of the helmet.
Video reviews are used to determine whether the contact was above the shoulders or the hit was with the crown of the helmet.
''You've got to have elements of targeting, that he was really trying to lead with it (helmet),'' Redding said.
The biggest complaint about the targeting rule in its early days was that it took away players' aggressiveness, that occasional helmet-to-helmet contact was an inherent part of football.
But as safety awareness has risen, particularly when it comes to concussions, most coaches and players have embraced the rule - even if they don't always agree when it comes against their team.
''They made the rule because of people safety and concussions and all this,'' Utah linebacker Gionni Paul said. ''So, we've got to be more aware as players when we go in for hits like that and just go with the right leverage and right form of tackling.''
In the early days of the rule, officials were often reluctant to call targeting penalties, in part because it was so new.
That has changed in recent years as officials have become more comfortable making the calls and received extensive training, including videos specifically on targeting.
''I think they've gotten better at it,'' Redding said. ''They'll miss some. I mean, gosh, it's very fast, this is very fast action and you're going to make mistakes. The officials are much less reluctant now. Nobody likes to throw a player out of a game, but the foul is so serious and it's a play we've got to get out of our game.''
AP Sports Writers Kareem Copeland in Salt Lake City and Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.