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MMQB - Why is Targeting?

Let’s try to define it

NCAA Football: Penn State at Purdue
Not pictured: Abdul Carter, because he got to play exactly one down before being ejected
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the second quarter of this past weekend’s game against Purdue, Penn State freshman linebacker Abdul Carter dove for a loose ball, and was subsequently ejected for targeting.

MMQB sits here today and asks: why is targeting?

Why am I asking that question? Well, because it’s probably the easiest question to ask when it comes to targeting.

Why is targeting? Targeting is designed to minimize head-to-head collisions, one of - if not THE - most dangerous portions of the game of football.

Where is targeting? That’s another easy one. Targeting is on the football field, dummy.

When is targeting? During a football game - and more specifically, during a football play! Easy peasy.

Who is targeting? That’s a nonsensical question, and I won’t answer it.

What is targeting? Aha. And now we’ve gotten to the hardest question to answer of them all.

Because I’ll be damned if I know what targeting is.

I thought I knew what it was. Forcible contact made to the head or neck of a defenseless player, most typically with the crown of the helmet.

But it turns out targeting can be whatever you want it to be. Spearing a dude in the head? Not targeting! Diving for a loose ball? Targeting! Taking a shiv out of your sock and stabbing a dude? Straight to jail, but not for targeting!

And before I get a bevy of emails telling me I’m a caveman, the previous paragraph was extremely tongue-in-cheek.

But in all seriousness, I’m hard pressed to watch replays of Carter’s hit and call it targeting. From my perspective, the play had not yet been blown dead, and Carter hustled over in an attempt to dislodge an opposing player from what appeared to be a loose ball. The two players collided shoulder-to-shoulder, and though I can’t say for sure, I believe there was helmet-to-helmet contact . . . but it was about as incidental a contact as you can have, and it certainly wasn’t crown-of-the-helmet.

There was no intent to do harm. There was no launching. No crown of the helmet interaction. Just a player diving for a loose ball and attempting to dislodge it from an opposing player.

And that’s targeting?

So I’ll circle back around to what I said earlier - I’ll be damned if I can properly define targeting. It seems each season another wrinkle is added to the definition of targeting, to the point that I no longer could tell you with a straight face that I know what it is.

Perhaps the NCAA might consider adding levels of severity? Such as a Flagrant 1 vs Flagrant 2 in basketball?

Crown-of-the-helmet with launching directly into a defenseless player’s facemask? Flagrant 2 targeting, 15-yard penalty, player ejected.

Incidental shoulder-to-shoulder contact when diving for a loose ball? Flagrant 1 targeting, 15-yard penalty, player gets a warning. Player commits a second Flagrant 1, then yup, he’s outta there.

I just don’t know what is targeting, so I’ll stick with the easy questions like why is targeting.

At least that one I have an answer for.