Skalski's Ejection Puts Targeting In Spotlight

Brad Senkiw

Clemson junior James Skalski was ejected for targeting during the second half of Monday night’s national championship game against LSU in New Orleans.

Skalski was tossed after a hit on LSU receiver Justin Jefferson. The replay officials ruled targeting.

Replay shows Skalski lowering his head and leading with the crown of his helmet when he hit Jefferson. Even though there wasn’t forcible contact with Jefferson’s head, it’s still defined as targeting by the NCAA.

By rule, since the penalty occurred during the second half, Skalski will have to miss the first half of Clemson’s 2020 season-opener.

After the game, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he didn’t get a good look at the infraction and wasn’t going to use the ejection as any kind of excuse in Clemson’s 42-25 loss to LSU.

Targeting is one of the most controversial subjects in all of college football.

While Skalski’s hit was correctly called by the officials based on the rules, there is debate about whether or not an automatic ejection is a fair penalty.

Skalski, who redshirted in 2018 after dealing with injuries and a loaded linebacking corps, started every game for Clemson in 2019. He worked hard to be Brent Venables’ middle linebacker and had an excellent season.

One of the team’s top leaders, Skalski saw his opportunity to help his team win a national championship come to an abrupt end on a play in which there was no intent to hurt the ball carrier.

“I hate it for (Skalski),” Swinney said. “He's such a wonderful young man and such a great leader and all that. But you know, they were just the better team.”

While it might not have changed the outcome of the game, Skalski’s ejection was a reminder of the effect of the targeting penalty.

There is swelling support for some amendments to the current rule, though. Intent or no intent is not part of the wording in the rulebook.

Some people in college football have called for something more like college basketball, which uses a Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2 to determine the severity of fouls.

Is some of that subjective? Sure, but so are many other calls made on a court or field.

There have been proposals made by both the American Football Coaches Association and the officials coordinator of the American Athletic Conference in recent years to change the severity of the punishment based on intent, but the NCAA has been reluctant to alter that aspect of the rule.

Maybe that will change this offseason. Skalski worked hard to get where Clemson got. His family, coaches and teammates had to watch him walk off the field before the game was over because of a hit in which he wasn’t trying to do anything malicious.

Targeting is in the game for safety purposes, and Skalski will clearly learn a hard lesson in tackling, but to disqualify him from such an important moment could be considered harsh.

Making adjustments to the power of ejecting players does have its pitfalls, and it would make the officials’ jobs harder if they are responsible for determining if a hit had intent or not, but that doesn’t make the current rule the most sensible. 

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

"While Skalski’s hit was correctly called by the officials based on the rules" ... where did you get that? According to the rules this technically was not targeting...

Article 5. For a player to be disqualified and the Targeting foul to be enforced, all elements of a Targeting foul must be confirmed by the Instant Replay Official. There is no option for stands as a part of a Targeting review. If any element of Targeting cannot be confirmed, then the Replay Official shall overturn the targeting foul.

"all elements of a Targeting foul must be confirmed"

Targeting elements include:

  1. Rule 9-1-3: (a) A player takes aim at an opponent for the purposes of attacking with forcible contact with the crown of the helmet. (b) An indicator of targeting is present.

  2. Rule 9-1-4: (a) A defenseless opponent (Rule 2-27-14). (b) A player takes aim at a defenseless opponent for the purposes of attacking with forcible contact to the head or neck area. (c) An indicator of targeting is present.

Skalski did not hit him in the head or neck; while he did glance off his facemask, the brunt to the "attack" was to the chest.

This is very different than the OSU call against ward where there was clearly helmet to helmet contact.

I'm just reading the rules here. If you know something different would love to understand why it was targeting, you could help with the blindside block by #5 as well, don't understand how a player that is in front of another player and comes back to make a block in the front of the player is a blindside block...

Blind-Side Block ARTICLE 7. A blind-side block is an open field block against an opponent that is initiated from outside the opponent’s field of vision, or otherwise in such a manner that the opponent cannot reasonably defend himself against the block.