The targeting call, a decade old now, is a grand bargain necessary for the survival of football. The foul puts defensive players in a difficult, if not unfair, position, but on the whole it's needed to protect defenseless players from enduring unnecessary, dangerous shots to the head.
Just so we're all on the same page, the NCAA defines targeting as a hit that checks at least one of these four boxes:
Launch — a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area
A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground.
Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area.
Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet.
During Friday night's USC-Washington State game, we saw a play that looks like the very definition of what's described above.
USC linebacker Porter Gustin crouched, he launched, he led with his head and he initiated forcible contact with the crown of his helmet to the head of Wazzu's defenseless quarterback Gardner Minshew.
But that, in the eyes of Pac-12 officials, was not targeting. And Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott defended that decision to the Associated Press.
“So you can certainly assume that play got a lot of looks, not just from the replay booth at the stadium, but we’ve got our command center back in San Francisco with our head of officiating and a bunch of experienced replay guys, who absolutely would have looked at that play,” Scott saidHe said it also was looked at afterward and it was not determined to be targeting.“As you know, in any given game there are a lot of close calls, and this was a very, very close one. No doubt about it,” Scott said.
For what it's worth, a week earlier Big 12 officials viewed this Gustin hit to be targeting.
And different sets of officials viewed these plays to be targeting.
Targeting is one call that the officials, quite simply, cannot get wrong, because the implications of a wrong call are horrible both ways. Either they let a dangerous hit go unpunished or they unjustly kick a player out of a game and put his team at a disadvantage for no reason -- and there's really no in-between.