Targeting Rule Challenge For All

The most controversial rules change in recent years came very close to being even more controversial Saturday when a Southeastern Conference official threw a flag on a play and then called it a targeting violation. It wasn't targeting – which was fixed. But it also should not have been a penalty, but that wasn't fixed.

No one argues with the intent of the targeting rule. In fact, the rule has been in place. It is to prevent defenseless players, usually receivers looking for the ball or quarterbacks looking downfield to pass, from being targeted by an opposing player for a hit to the head. If the opposing player uses the crown of his helmet or his arms or hands for the hit, it is a personal foul.

To add teeth to the rule, the penalty was increased this year. Increased dramatically. In addition to the personal foul penalty, a player charged with targeting is to be ejected from the game. If the penalty is in the second half of a game, he will be unable to play in the first half of the team's subsequent game.

Because of the severity of the penalty, a charge of targeting is subject to automatic review by the replay official. But there is a limit to the authority of that official. He may sustain or reject the targeting call. He may not, however, change the personal foul ruling.

In Alabama's 49-42 victory over Texas A&M, Crimson Tide safety HaHa Clinton-Dix made an outstanding play, breaking up a pass along the Texas A&M sideline. The official, also on the sideline, no doubt got some encouragement from the Aggies bench to call a foul on the play. And the official, who is charged to err on the side of caution in the matter of targeting, added that charge.

The replay official correctly overruled the targeting call, but was helpless to correct the wrongful decision of personal foul. Thus, the Aggies benefited by 15 yards and a first down.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Monday that he understands the difficult job that football officials have, and "I thought the crew did try to do the best job they could. It was a difficult circumstance. There were a lot of things that happened in the game, but they did a pretty good job.

Saban added there were a lot of plays "that you could evaluate from an officiating standpoint. But I think everybody's got to understnad that in a game like that where the other team is going fast, it's a lot harder for them, too. It's a lot harder for them to get in position. It's a lot harder for them to make some of those calls.

"The guy (Clinton-Dix) was playing the ball. Did he hit the [intended receiver] in the head? I don't know. It got called. Should he have been ejected? No, he shouldn't have.

"Now, we could go question somebody's judgment. I'm not willing to do that because the [official] had to make the call."

But Saban doesn't like the halfway review process.

"If you can review a play to say a guy should be ejected or not be ejected," Saban said, "to me you should review it to say it was a penalty or not a penalty.

"In my opinion – I'm giving you my opinion.

"That's not what the rule is. That's something the (NCAA) Rules Committee did. It has nothing to do with SEC officiating. They did what they were supposed to do based on the judgment and the call they, had to make, which I respect. I respect how hard [officials] work to try to do a good job.

"Some of them are bang-bang plays."

Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, one of the stars of Bama's victory over the Aggies with his interception and 73-yard return for a touchdown. said the targeting rule has not changed the way he plays in the secondary.

"No sir," said the junior. "I go 110 miles per hour every single play. Whenever the ball's in the air I just try to go attack it. If I hit somebody I'm going to try and make sure it's within the rules. That's what we're trying to do."

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