The number of enforced targeting penalties is down 32% in the Football Bowl Subdivision compared with the first seven weeks of the 2018 season, the NCAA said Wednesday.
Targeting, the act of striking a defenseless opponent above the shoulders or using the crown of the helmet to contact an opponent, has been one of the college game's biggest player-safety concerns for a decade.
There have been 132 targeting penalties called in the FBS. Of those, 83 were enforced and 49 were overturned on video review. There were 171 targeting penalties called at this point in 2018. Of those, 122 were enforced and 49 were overturned.
"It is hard to know how precisely to attribute the decline, but it is a significant drop," national coordinator of football officials Rogers Redding said.
Redding pointed to three possible factors: players using better tackling technique, the removal of "stands" as called on the field as a review option and the threat of a one-game suspension for three targeting fouls in the same season.
"The main reason is that coaches and players have responded," Redding said. "We anecdotally see player behavior changing, although we can't prove it. This is difficult to quantify, but it comes from several (officials) coordinators and me, based on years of experience with this rule."
Video review officials are now required to overturn targeting calls if any element of the penalty cannot be confirmed. Previously, video review officials could let the call on the field stand. Redding said about 11 percent of reviews resulted in "stands" in 2018. Redding said in the unlikely event all of those "stands" were reversed under 2019 rules, it still would not totally account for the decrease.
A player committing a targeting foul is ejected for the remainder of the game in addition to his team being penalized 15 yards. If the foul occurs after halftime, the player is ejected and must sit out the first half of his team's next game.
This year the NCAA passed a "three strikes" rule that calls for a player to be suspended for the entirety of his next game if he has three targeting fouls in the same season.
"The specter of the progressive penalty — three strikes and you're out — might give coaches and players pause," Redding said, "since now history matters when it didn't previously."
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