As players and coaches continue to adjust to rules changes enacted four years ago, targeting penalties and ejections have increased this season when compared to last fall.
However, such penalties have essentially remained the same at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level, which is where Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois play.
Bill Carollo, Big Ten Coordinator of Officials, provided statistical information to verify this pattern. After four weeks of the season, here are the targeting fouls for 2017 compared with the same point last season.
Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS)
2017: 286 games. 97 fouls called, 27 overturned, for a net of 70 enforced.
2016: 290 games. 62 fouls called, 14 overturned, for a net of 48 enforced.
Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)
2017: 171 games. 31 fouls called, 13 overturned, for a net of 18 enforced.
2016: 181 games. 29 fouls called, 11 overturned, for a net of 18 enforced.
Targeting fouls initiated by the Instant Replay Official:
FBS = 23
FCS = 9
"Player safety is our official's top priority. The rules of the game continue to evolve with this in mind and the training of the players, coaches and our officials are the key to addressing this area," Corollo said in an e-mail. "Although targeting fouls are up nationally, I believe the coaches have done an excellent job in taking the most dangerous plays out of the game."
Carollo oversees football for the Collegiate Officiating Consortium (COC) that includes the Big Ten, Mid-American, Missouri Valley Football and Pioneer Conferences. Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois play in the MVFC. Eastern Illinois is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
According to a February online story by Sports Illustrated, "The targeting penalty has been a consistent source of controversy in college football since an automatic ejection was added to the penalty in 2013. From the early days when even if the call was overturned on review the 15-yard penalty was still enforced to the continuing attempts to clearly define was constitutes targeting, no other rule has drawn more scrutiny."
As the rules presently stand, a player ejected for targeting sits out a half of his next game. The player must stay in the locker room as he is not allowed on the sidelines for the suspended half.
Last winter, NCAA Football Rules Committee secretary-rules editor Rogers Redding told USA Today that the committee will consider a “middle ground” to the rule. That middle ground would spare a player ejection if video review of the play was unable to confirm the ejection but similarly unable to overturn it altogether. In such cases, the 15-yard penalty would be enforced but the offending player could stay in the game.
To date, five Illinois FCS players have been ejected for targeting this season.
EIU--Bradley Dewberry & Josh Price vs. Northern Illinois
ISU--Brannon Berry vs. Indiana State
SIU--Jordan Berner vs. Southeast Missouri (ejected for targeting after the second play of the game against SEMO, but was eligible to play at Memphis the following weekend),
WIU--Aaron Diggs vs. Tennessee Tech
ISU linebacker Brannon Barry was ejected for a hit ruled as targeting in the second half of last weekend's game against Indiana State. Barry, therefore, will have to sit out the first half of Saturday's game at Northern Arizona.
"It is what it is. They are going to err on the side of safety," ISU head coach Brock Spack told The Pantagraph. "I didn't see the replay, but I was told from our people in the press box they were going to call it."
"I think some of the hits can be avoided and those are the ones that could be called, but a lot of hits happen so quick that you really can't adjust your pad level to make it a better form tackle. I don't think suspending players will help them learn a lesson. I think suspensions should happen to repeat offenders who are aiming for those hits. We're still playing football.. people have to get hit at some point."
--Chase Allen, former SIU linebacker now with the Miami Dolphins