NCAA again misses the mark while trying to fix its broken targeting rule

NCAA again misses the mark while trying to fix its broken targeting rule

I’m going to guess that when I write “Nigel Bradham” and “Miami” in the same sentence, 90 percent of you are going to harken back to one day in the fall of 2011. One hit, in particular.

When the future NFL linebacker obliterated that poor Miami player on what turned out to be a perfectly legal hit. One that actually caused a game-clinching interception.

And yet, because the NCAA has always been about seven steps behind when it comes to its wacky targeting rules, not only did the interception not count but Bradham was ejected from the game. Because, at the time, replay reviews for targeting fouls did not exist.

And why would they? Why would the NCAA have any thought on this matter? Ever?

Anyway, here we are 11 years later. And the targeting rule is still almost as dumb as it was back then.

Not quite!

Goal closed.

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So when the NCAA announced late last week that it was changing its ejection policy for targeting, I legitimately got excited. I thought, “Great! Finally, this preposterous rule has been changed and they aren’t going to punish a safety for having his helmet hit by a ducking ball-carrier accidentally! Good on you, NCAA! Better late than never!”

Goal no. I was wrong. The NCAA didn’t change the ejection policy. Not really.

Here’s the tweak it made to the system instead: If a player gets called for targeting and ejected in the second half of a game, his team can appeal to the head of NCAA officiating to see if the call can be overturned so he can play in the first half of the next game.

Sweet Moses. What’s even the point?

There are two factors to this rule change that make it completely and totally useless: First and foremost, what are the odds the NCAA official is actually going to overturn the call from the game? It’s not like they’ll have a different replay angle than the one the ACC replay officials used. There’s not a special NCAA camera that only the head of officials gets to see.

So, how in the world is something like that — that’s been reviewed for sometimes five to 10 minutes with multiple slow-mo replays — going to get overturned? Is the NCAA really going to come out and say the ACC official in the booth got it wrong?

Is the NCAA actually going to try to judge intent, which I always thought they should do, when it comes to a targeting call?

How else would anything get overturned? The replay, I’m sure by the letter of the law, will show a defender’s helmet hitting the helmet of the ball-carrier — often because the offensive player ducked his head into the defender. But whatever, you’re still ejected!

And let’s just say for the sake of argument and comedy, the NCAA comes out on Wednesday and says the targeting call actually was wrong. And your starting safety IS available for the first half of the following game.


Our team still blew that lead in the fourth quarter on Saturday because that starting safety was kicked out of the game for a hit you have since deemed to be non-targeting.

Thanks for that! Do we get a do-over on that last drive now?

Any time I talk or write about this stupid rule, I want to make sure I stress that I do, in fact, care about player safety. When you watch football highlights from the 1970s and 1980s, it can make you really uncomfortable. Because guys were literally launching themselves into the helmets of defenseless receivers and going for kill-shots across the middle with reckless abandon.

I’m all for that being taken out of the game.

What the NCAA has done, though, is turn this part of college football into a farce. And it’s been going on since the Nigel Bradham days.

Remember after that season when the NCAA—in its infinite wisdom—decided that ejections could, in fact, be overturned by replay during the game if the official booth determined it wasn’t targeting? But that the 15-yard penalty would still stand!

Meaning they reviewed the play in question. Determined it WAS NOT targeting. Therefore a legal hit. And yet, the player was still penalized and the offense got an automatic first down anyway. Because why not? What’s it matter? It’s just sports. Who cares if rules make sense, right? Just let us be and quit complaining!

Now, if I was the czar of this increasingly frustrating sport, the first thing I would do is ban PA announcers from yelling, “It’s thiiiiiirrrrrrdddddd dooowwwwwnnnnn!” from all college football stadiums. Keep that unoriginal, piped-in, cookie-cutter phrase in the NFL where it belongs, please.

And the second thing I would do is fix this targeting rule once and for all.

I wouldn’t do the dumb half- and quarter-measures the NCAA has been instituting since the Bradham hit. I would simply get rid of the ejection for targeting. Unless the hit was obviously malicious.

It is possible to judge intent. College basketball does it all the time. Most flagrant fouls result in technical free throws, right? But some result in ejections. Not many. But some. Because the NCAA has allowed officials in that sport to judge intent.

We’ve all watched enough basketball to know a dangerous play when we see it. And we know when a kid should be ejected. And most times, when it’s obvious, they are not only ejected, but then suspended for at least a game.

And nobody has a problem with that. Because the punishment fits the crime.

In football, however, the NCAA just has a blanket rule. If your helmet hits another player’s helmet, no matter if it was your intent or not, no matter if it was your opponent that ducked his head into yours at the last possible second, or if you tripped and accidentally head-butted someone on the ground , it’s a 15-yard penalty. And you’re ejected for either the rest of that game or the first half of the next game.

But hey, good news football fans!

A change is coming!

Now, when your starting safety gets kicked out of the third quarter of a close game for an accidental collision, you can appeal the ruling! How exciting is that? And on Wednesday, you’ll hear back from the NCAA that by the letter of the law it was the right call and your suspension stands.

And in reality, absolutely nothing changes with this dumb rule.

Contact senior writer Corey Clark at and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.

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