PULLMAN – Many college football coaches think the game’s targeting rule needs a trip to the review booth. Washington State’s Mike Leach would rather just abolish it.
Even though Leach coaches the offensive players who are generally the ones benefiting from the rule – which results in a 15-yard penalty, an automatic ejection and a one-half suspension – the WSU boss believes it’s too difficult to enforce, and therefore should be eliminated. And even though the Cougars have a clean track record this season, Leach would rather see the NCAA do away with the rule than gain 15 yards a pop every time WSU’s opponent commits an infraction.
“It’s a stupid rule, it’s a really stupid rule,” the coach said Monday during his weekly news conference. “Without commenting on officiating and this certainly isn’t a comment on officiating, but I saw a targeting last game and at any rate, I think it’s far too difficult to call and I think there’s a real inexactness to calling it and I think they need to get rid of it.”
A drastic increase in head injuries and brain trauma over the last decade-plus triggered NCAA officials to implement the targeting rule in 2008. It mandates that a player can’t use the crown of his helmet to make contact with another player above the shoulders. Players also incur the targeting penalty if they utilize their helmet, forearm, hand, elbow or shoulder to strike a defenseless receiver.
The rule didn’t have too many critics until 2013, when officials determined in addition to a 15-yard penalty, players would be tossed from the game and forced to miss the next half.
Stanford certainly could’ve used inside linebacker Joey Alfieri in the first half of Saturday’s 24-21 loss at WSU, but the all-conference defenseman had been punished for a targeting violation in the second half of the previous game against Oregon State. Alfieri returned for the second half in Pullman, but the Cardinal were already in a 14-7 hole at that point.
According to an Associated Press story earlier in the year, there was a 73 percent increase in the number of targeting penalties enforced through the first three weeks of the current FBS season. In 2016, there were 0.17 targeting calls per game, according to the AP. In 2017, that number’s increased to 0.26.
Leach has more than a few quarrels with the rule. One, that it’s “nearly impossible to officiate,” he reiterated. Referees are often left to make knee-jerk reactions when they see two helmets clank and even though every call is sent back to the video booth, a review may not always provide the clarity needed to make the right call.
“A guy’s going to see something, try to see something instantly, then they have this review thing,” Leach said. “Even then, I see the thing get fouled up.”
And nine times out of 10, the play isn’t malicious, he believes. Football contorts the body in different ways and often a defensive player doesn’t have the time he needs to adjust his position when an offensive player lowers his head at the last second.
“This guy raises up, this guy goes down and for the most part I haven’t seen it deliberate,” Leach said. “Somebody just ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time. If the guy’s not trying to target, but then ends up targeting somebody and gets called for it.”
Leach, as he often likes to do, got off course during his news conference and went on a spiel about a “speed trap” he used to encounter while he was an assistant coach at Iowa Wesleyan College. In his own roundabout way, the coach brought the conversation back to the targeting infraction.
An abbreviated version of Leach’s analogy: “I’m going through town, 20 miles per hour and real conscious of looking down at my speed limit the whole time. Then all the sudden lights behind me. … The guy says, ‘I had you going 22 miles an hour in a 20-mile speed limit.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t believe that. I’m looking at my speedometer the whole time, I don’t know how that can be. Well I ended up getting a warning which that was kind of a miracle when you consider where this happened. I think that exists with the targeting rule a lot. The guy’s trying as hard as he can not to.”
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