The effort to minimize the risk of injuries in football continues.
The National Federation of State High School Associations officially defined targeting for its members Thursday, clarifying a rule already in place in Oklahoma but giving officials more power to protect players.
The NFHS defined targeting as “an act of taking aim and initiating contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders.” The penalty is classified as illegal personal contact.
“Anytime you look at safety aspects of it, obviously football is a violent contact sport, but I think with all of this concussion talk in today's society you've got to protect a kid,” 24-year veteran Oklahoma City official Jeff Murray said. “We've always done that, no matter what it is, but this gives it more emphasis on it.”
The NFHS board of directors also approved eight other rule changes, including some changes to kickoffs and defining a “defenseless player” as “a player who, because of physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury.”
That falls in line with targeting, too.
For Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association assistant director Mike Whaley, this allows an emphasis to be placed in time for next season on the rule. However, he remains concerned with officials missing violations of the rule.
“We're going to miss some on both ends,” said Whaley, the director of officials across the state who serves on the NFHS rules committee. “We're going to call some that aren't and we're going to miss some that are.
“My stance is going to be since risk minimization is our goal here, if you've got any doubts you need to put your flag on the ground. If I'm going to miss it, I'm going to miss it on the risk minimization of the players involved.”
The idea of making an incorrect call has some coaches concerned.
They see NCAA officials missing calls on Saturdays during the fall, but those officials have the luxury of instant replay.
“I think probably as it is our officiating crews are probably understaffed and underworked,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “It's a difficult job that we ask them to do to have their eyes on every play. There's not as many officials on the field as in a college game and we ask them to do a lot of things. It's a difficult job.”
Murray, though, views the change as a good thing. He said his officiating crew only called the penalty once all of last season, but this gives them a solid rule to back them up in the future.
“It just gives us a better definition to work with as far as they spelled out what targeting is,” Murray said. “I don't think it's going to be any different than what it's called in the past. Any time you hit somebody above their head, it always has that potential for a penalty.”
Norman North coach Wade Standley views the definition as a natural progression to protect players.
“We want to be able to play the game the way it's supposed to be played as far within the rules,” he said. “More than anything, you want to be able to protect the defenseless player, you want to be able to teach the kid to tackle properly so the tackler's not getting hurt as well. I think it's just part of just making sure that we ensure the athlete's safety and that we continue to do that.”
That's also why the NFHS approved two new requirements for the kicking team. Now, at least four members of the kicking team must be on each side of the kicker. Also, other than the kicker, no members of the kicking team may be more than five yards behind the kicking team's free line.
And that's why the organization and the OSSAA will continue to closely monitor ways to minimize the risk of players.
“The targeting thing is a big deal,” Whaley said. “I think it needs to be worked through the entire system. What I mean is the rule makers have made their statement, the officials that officiate the game need to their part, the coaches that coach the game need to do their part, the state associations that coordinate officials, coaches and the game need to do their part.
“I think there isn't anybody today that isn't somewhat concerned about the future of the game as far as risk minimization.”