Football Officiating Clinic Notebook: Changes Coming to Targeting Rule

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

With a new football season, comes a new batch of rules and rule changes that are trying to improve the product on the field and make the game safer for its participants. To me there were two major issues with officiating last season: 1. Inconsistency with how officials called targeting and 2. the length of time and the use of replay reviews.

So, last weekend, I decided to take a field trip to Chicago for the annual Football Officiating Clinic for officials working in the Big Ten, MAC, and Missouri Valley conferences. I want to thank the Big Ten and Bill Corollo for letting us join in on the experience. It really opened my eyes to just how difficult it is to be an official in college football.

Myself and two other members of the media sat in on the morning session of lectures that covered mental toughness, physical fitness, a written test (which I scored best out of the other two writers), a round table with six officials as well as Corollo, and finally an interactive experience being a replay official judging catch-no catch plays.

So what changes are coming in 2016? Let's go through them.

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Low blocks are going to be an emphasis, especially early in the season. It's a very dangerous hit, that is difficult to call and judge. I expect a lot of early flags on this call as both the players and officials adjust to the new rules.

New rules will rule a runner down as soon as they give themselves up. Making it more like the NFL rule. Speaking of being more like the NFL, the college game will try and get rid of low hits on the quarterbacks as well. 

The biggest rule change that fans should take not of is the expanded role of instant replay in the calling of targeting. Targeting came into college football in 2013 with the best intentions, but has drawn mixed reviews from fans, players, and commentators. The big change this season is that the instant replay official will be able to call a targeting penalty if the on-field officials missed it and it was an EGREGIOUS mistake. Fans may groan at this. I understand, I groaned too. Now games are going to be five hours long with no flow. Fair, but this new tweak should help the officials get the call correct, which is the end all be all.

"It's a tough call for us" Carollo said, "that's why we're bringing replay into it. It's not always going to be perfect, but we are going to live with that controversial call. It's part of the game."  

Will these new rules help cut out more of the vicious hits that the folks who run college football want to eliminate or limit? Maybe, hopefully, but the adjustment to the targeting rules has been slow. The really cheap shots have been down, but there are still too many targeting penalties. Could this be the change that tilts the scales the other way? We'll just have to wait and find out.

To my surprise, officials liked the replay system. A veteran Big Ten referee, Dan Capron, claimed "it saved my career, before instant replay was around, if you made a mistake during the game, it was a mistake forever. Now, we've grown accustomed to it, and now it's such a fundamental, vital part of the game that I couldn't imagine going back to the days without it. Officials love it, coaches love it, the players love it, and I think the fans love it as long as it doesn't go too long. It's a great thing." 

Replay and the technology that has brought it about has been great. Are there things that need to be changed with it? Yes, but that is why there are officials' meeting and clinics and reviews. They pour over the previous week's games and see what went right or wrong and adjust. 

Aside from the new rules and meeting some of the best officials the game has to offer, the biggest thing I walked away with was a new found respect for officials. These men and women do not do this as a full-time job (it should be), they work second jobs as teachers, in offices, as well as have families that they go home to. They are, at the end of the day, human. They are open to discussions, they know when they blow a call and it probably eats at them more than it does for fans.