IRVING, Texas — Walt Anderson kept showing video examples of potential targeting fouls. Play after play were on the screen for Big 12 officials to digest last weekend at their annual clinic.
Anderson, director of Big 12 officiating, would show the play in slow-motion, rewind it, show it again. He would talk through the plays, what the officials were seeing, where the play was headed, where the contact could have been made, should have been made, was made.
And play after play, most of the hits shown were deemed legal. And if not on the field, in the replay booth.
“We’ve got far more examples of legal contact than targeting, because that’s the reality,” Anderson said. “We feel very comfortable where we ended the season last year with targeting.”
Either Big 12 football was remarkably clean, or the league’s defenders were scared straight. Fear gripped coaches, players, fans and media last year when the NCAA ruled that players penalized for targeting would be disqualified for that half and the next half, be it that game or the next.
That fear was unfounded in the Big 12. Anderson said Big 12 crews called just eight targeting penalties last season, and four of those were wiped out by replay review. That’s less than one per team, for the season. Less than one per week, for the conference.
In this case, deterrence worked.
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“It’s definitely something you think about it, as opposed to the years before,” said Kass Everett, who played defensive back at OU the previous two years. “It definitely was in the back of our mind; every time we felt like we had a clean shot, we had to make sure we were not hurting ourselves.”
Or maybe players weren’t head-hunting nearly as much as we were led to believe.
“Very often we get unfairly labeled with being much more violent than it is,” Anderson said of the sport. And this is not a guy with his head in the sand. He’s an NFL referee on Sundays, then works during the week to insure that Big 12 football is officiated as well as it possibly can be.
“There’s a lot of contact to the helmet during the course of play, most of which is legal,” Anderson said.
Remember the definition of targeting: making forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of the helmet or to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, fist, elbow or shoulder.
Oklahoma State did not lose a player to disqualification last season, and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said that shouldn’t be a surprise.
“It really wasn’t something we had on our mind all the time,” Spencer said. “In (August) camp, we enforced the rule, we showed ’em some video of it. But the way we teach our base tackling … to be honest with you, it wasn’t a big issue.
“They usually get what you emphasize. If you sit there and preached, ‘you really gotta try to hurt somebody every snap, and we reward that and we encourage that, you’re trying to put somebody out of the game,’ I think that’s what you would get.
“But our emphasis is to try to get off the field. Try to tackle. Try to get the ball back for our offense. You get what you emphasize. You’re not trying to hurt this guy. Lot of times, you try to do that, you’re going to have bad tackling technique. You’re going to whiff.”
Last season, if the replay official ruled a targeting penalty was invalid, the disqualification was removed but the 15-yard penalty stood. That was a silly rule and everyone knew it. It’s gone. Now, if the targeting is wiped out, so is the penalty yardage.
Also changed is the verbiage, using the “making forcible” contact instead of “initiating” contact.
“We’re not going to call targeting any different this year than last year,” Anderson said. “The wording language that was changed … it’s subtle, but it’s meaningful. What we discovered last year (nationally), there were some misinterpretations, particularly in the replay process. Replay was working off the language of the rule. When you had that initiate part, replay was sometimes taking a targeting action off, when it should have stayed. All the force was to the head, all the damage was done, and that’s the intent of the rule.
“Officials, just like everybody else, sometimes hang on every word in the rulebook.”
Anderson was strong in his convictions last summer that the targeting disqualification would be good for football. He pointed out that if football didn’t change on its own, the sport would be changed from exterior forces. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone.
The rule seems to have worked. A new culture has been established. Players are responding. Officials are calling it well, and when they err, replay serves as a safety net. And the kinks in the rule have been ironed out. The targeting rule and penalty must be labeled a success.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.