Football is evolving and those overseeing the sport are recognizing it needs to be made safer for the well-being of its players. In an attempt to address this, the NFL and NCAA have implemented rules to discourage defenders from leading with their head to make tackles in recent years.
Broad language has perhaps made the NFL's legislation difficult to comprehend in application throughout the 2018 preseason. Last December, it was reported that the NFL wanted to model a targeting rule after the NCAA's. However, their rules on the matter can be more feasibly understood.
So, for clarity, here's a breakdown of what the NCAA law dictates.
The official 2018 Football Code of the NCAA Football Rules Committee stresses that "players and coaches should emphasize the elimination of targeting and initiating contact against a defenseless opponent and/or with the crown of the helmet."
Targeting does not solely occur when players initiate helmet-to-helmet contact. It's defined as occurring when 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." Instances 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 his helmet.
Since 2008, the committee has implemented rules to prohibit forcible contact using the helmet and target defenseless opponents. In 2013, it became an ejectionable offense, in addition to incurring a 15-yard penalty.
Defenseless players can be defined as any of the following, but not limited to:
- a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.
- a receiver attempting to catch a forward pass or in position to receive a backward pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
- a kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball, or during the kick or the return.
- a kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
- a player on the ground.
- a player obviously out of the play.
- a player who receives a blind-side block.
- a ball carrier already in the grasp of an opponent and whose forward progress has been stopped.
- a quarterback any time after a change of possession.
- a ball carrier who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first.
Players can be automatically disqualified (following replay review) for violating two definable rules: Targeting and Making Forcible Contact With the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 9-1-3) and Targeting and Making Forcible Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player (Rule 9-1-4).
Here is how the rules are defined by the NCAA:
Targeting and Making Forcible Contact With the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 9-1-3)
- 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. When in question, it is a foul.
Targeting and Making Forcible Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player (Rule 9-1-4)
- 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.
It is worth noting that the reason both rules are enacted when a play is in question because the NCAA errs on the side of safety.