clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The National Championship's refs have decided not to call targeting fouls

New, comments

Two of these looks like targeting. The other’s so close.

The first nine minutes of Monday’s Alabama-Clemson National Championship included two potential targeting fouls by Alabama. Neither was ruled as such. Neither was a third-quarter hit by Clemson, even though it was awfully target-ish.

The first play in question: a high hit by Tide linebacker Reuben Foster on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, which netted a 15-yard personal foul flag but not a targeting call:

And the second play: a hit to the head by Bama cornerback Tony Brown on Clemson’s No. 1 receiver, Mike Williams:

The third, a hit by Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware on Alabama receiver ArDarius Stewart:

Let’s read the NCAA’s targeting rule.

If a player hits his opponent hard with the top of his helmet, it’s targeting:

No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. ... When in question, it is a foul.

If the hit doesn’t come from the crown of the helmet, it can still be a targeting foul. It requires 1) a blow to the head of the opponent and 2) that the opponent be “defenseless.”

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. When in question, it is a foul.

All targeting fouls require one “indicator” of targeting:

"Targeting" means that 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. Some indicators of targeting 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 the helmet

Two of these look like targeting, and another’s close.

Foster lowers himself and then thrusts himself upward, directly at Watson’s “head or neck area.” That’s inarguable. He makes “forcible contact” to the same area. He doesn’t lead with his helmet crown, but he doesn’t need to, because Watson is defenseless. The rulebook defines a “player in the act of or just after throwing a pass” as defenseless. Watson’s shovel pass is still a pass, and he still couldn’t defend himself.

On Boulware’s hit, he leads with his helmet (a targeting indicator) and then hits Stewart in the head, hard. Stewart is defenseless by definition, because he’s attempting to catch a pass. All the necessary boxes are checked.

The questionable hit is the second one above. It’s hard to say whether Brown’s hit, by the rulebook, is targeting. He lowers his head into Williams’, so the indicator is there. Williams is defenseless if the officials judge he’s “already in the grasp of an opponent,” with his forward progress stopped.

Williams’ forward progress appears to not be entirely stopped when Brown comes in for the hit. The rulebook says questionable plays of this nature should be called fouls. So, uh, it’s really close. It’s not as simple as Foster’s hit, which could’ve resulted in an ejection without any legitimate gripe from the Bama sideline.

None of these hits have looked especially egregious live. But two of them have met every criteria for a targeting foul, and the officials haven’t called it.