Those who are watching college football today after the NFL yesterday may have noticed targeted calls that are uncommon in professional football. While the general rules of both college football and the NFL are the same, targeting is something that exists specifically in college football.
The targeting rule went into effect in college football in 2008. This is in response to growing criticism of football and its potential for concussion-related injuries, particularly is related to the head and neck region. The rules state that a player will be penalized for targeting when a player—
“aimed at an opponent for the purpose of a forced collision attack that goes beyond making a legal tackle or legal clearance or playing the ball.”
The penalty resulted in a 15-yard penalty and automatic disqualification. It was one of the few rules in college football that resulted in a knockout. The referees must consider that the player targeted is defenseless and that the opposing player has worn their helmet leading to the area above the shoulders. Direct helmet-to-helmet contact also falls into this category.
There are several metrics to consider for applying this penalty. A player leaving the foot with upward or forward thrust and hitting the player’s head and neck area is considered to be on target. Bending with upward or forward thrust is similarly penalized even if they don’t get up. A player lowering his head to initiate forced contact is another sign. Any player wearing a helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand, or elbow for a brute force attack to the head or neck area is also fouled.
So why doesn’t the NFL have a targeted penalty?
Targeting in the NFL also exists, but it is not enforceable directly on the field as a disqualification. In each case, the problem belongs to NFL commissioner who are then responsible for deciding what next actions they will take.
Although there are no specific rules such as targeting, NFL does not punish helmet-to-helmet contact and protects defenseless players from unnecessarily rough punishment. However, unlike college football, Disqualification is at the discretion of the referees, but a 15-yard penalty is automatically applied. Also, the NFL doesn’t penalize every hit to the head. Instead, it only punishes helmet-to-helmet contact and allows other blows to the head or mask, especially those that could be unintentional.