NFL prepared to take aim at predatory hits
League expected to look at implementing college-style rule to deter ‘targeting’ players
If you think NFL games already are over-officiated, maybe wait until next year.
The NFL’s competition committee will consider adopting a college-style “targeting” rule this off-season. So said Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice-president of football operations, on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
“I think it’s something we have to consider,” Vincent said.
If you’re unaware, U.S. college football for the last 10 seasons has had a rather detailed targeting rule that, to summarize, can result in an ejection either for targeting a defenceless opponent above the shoulders or for using the crown of the helmet to contact an opponent.
In 2013, the rule was amended to have the on-field referee stop the game to consult with the designated on-site replay official to confirm whether targeting — irrespective of the personal-foul penalty, which cannot be overturned — occurred.
Since 2016, replay officials have been able to initiate the targeting call from the booth.
Determining whether targeting occurred, however, usually takes many minutes — in other words, a game delay that feels like forever.
Any player determined on review to be guilty of targeting is ejected; if it occurs in the second half, the guilty player also misses the first half of his next game.
The main reason it takes forever to determine if targeting occurred is there are so many boxes to tick within the rule. The second of the two primary criteria — “forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenceless opponent” — includes, but isn’t limited to, the following definitions of a “defenceless opponent”:
a player in the act of or having just thrown a pass;
a player trying to catch a pass or kick who hasn’t had time to become a ball-carrier;
a player in the act of kicking or who has just kicked;
a player on the ground or out of the play;
a player who gets blind-side blocked;
a ball-carrier whose forward progress has stopped;
a ball-carrier who is sliding or has given himself up;
a quarterback after he has thrown an interception or after a teammate has fumbled.
That isn’t all. A further requisite for a U.S. college player to be guilty of targeting is the presence of at least one of the following “indicators”:
launching (leaving one’s feet to attack an opponent through an “upward or forward” thrust into a player’s head or neck area);
crouching and thrusting upward, even with both feet still on the ground;
leading with the “helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact” to the head or neck area;
or lowering one’s head before attacking by “initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet.”
As complex as the rule is, the biggest problem is how it’s determined. The NCAA — and the NFL, if it chooses to implement such a rule — needs to insist that referees and replay officials view only real-time replays — that is, never in slow motion.
Slo-mo too often makes it appear as though a tackler intended to commit targeting. That’s because a split-second of action can be slowed down and stretched into several seconds and over those many seconds we conclude intuitively it was the tackler’s intended path — for instance, to hit the opposing player in the head or neck.
When we see the same play at regular speed, however, we often see it entirely different — a replay speed, by the way, that’s seldom shown during college telecasts. That is, we can more naturally see that the ball-carrier changed course or moved his head at the last moment — too late for the tackler to change his course and actions.
Players play at regular speed. Defenders’ actions should be judged at regular speed, too.
This factor is real and integral and is a big reason the CFL insists — senior vice-president of football and officiating czar Glen Johnson told me earlier this fall — that replays on pass interference challenges first be shown in the replay command centre at regular speed. If a movement is curious or unnatural, only then do they look at slo-mo to determine what caused it.
Determining what constitutes a predatory hit in football can be difficult.