Targeting: The Rule Georgia Football Fans are Learning to Hate


The slowest horse can outrun the fastest turtle. A turtle is a turtle and a horse is a horse. And likewise, of course, football is a violent sport – you can’t play a football game like it is badminton.

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Ho hum. Another day in Nashville, another targeting foul against a Bulldog.

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Georgia football fans not in a coma Saturday recall Bulldog linebacker Lorenzo Carter received a fifteen-yard penalty and disqualification for targeting early in the first half of the Vanderbilt game.

Seth Emerson’s analysis for is splendidly even-handed and concise. “It was a call that seemed wrong by the spirit of the rule, but justifiable by the wording.”

Mark Richt, ever succinct himself, remarked to Seth Emerson of, “I just think defenders are having a difficult time learning how to tackle somebody nowadays, because of these types of fouls,” Richt said.

When the spirit of the rule and the wording of the rule conflict to disqualify a player, and the players have trouble playing within the rule during games, the official is enforcing a bad rule.

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To top it off, the impact of a targeting ejection during a game is huge. Football is a game of player match ups with the outcome of the biggest games determined by a handful of playmakers making a handful of plays. So far in 2015, nine players have been ejected from major college football games.

No Bulldog believes the targeting call against Carter was correct. Since replay review confirmed the foul, Georgia fans scream conspiracy. It is far more likely that “targeting” is a bad rule fans misunderstand.

Misunderstood rules– including clock and timing regulations – create frustrated fans, often egged on by ignorant commentators. Fan and commentator ignorance inspires suspicion and breeds mistrust. Conspiracy theories sprout and take wing.

When there is no trust in the officiating, players have no confidence, fans have no confidence, and the game becomes a farce.

“The referees are so stupid!”

Not really, they are just doing the best they can with a flawed rule book.

The real problem is human nature. When someone gets hurt, we do something. That thing is often a rule change. Sometimes doing something is the right thing to do. Sometimes it is the wrong thing to do.

Before so-called “defenseless” players gained protection through the rules, players protected themselves by avoiding defenseless situations. Quarterbacks threw sooner. Quarterbacks threw lower over the middle. Running backs ran low with attention to carriage and bearing. Quarterbacks ran less and slid sooner.

Complicated rules create frustrated fans

Certainly, I, your humble correspondent, cannot judge which “rules of protection” are right and wrong. Certainly, roughing the kicker is a good rule. And perhaps defensive lineman do not receive enough protection from chop blocks. (A chop block ejection, perhaps after a warning, might be something to consider.)

But, football is a violent game, more than once compared to well-organized and regulated warfare.

In war, you learn to keep your head down or you don’t notice the ride home.

No, college football is not war – it’s a game played by kids.

But at some point, the violent potential of these very large, very fast kids and the violent nature of football must be accepted.

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