Fun with Numbers: NCAA targeting stats suggest safer play

Fresno State's Isaiah Burse is ejected against Hawaii after being called for targeting. (USATSI)
Fresno State's Isaiah Burse is ejected against Hawaii after being called for targeting. (USATSI)

Coaches weren't crazy about the new rule requiring ejections for players targeting defenseless players above the shoulders.

But through the first six weeks of the season, statistics show the rule change is serving its purpose, according to the NCAA.

It's helping protect players.

The review process can be cumbersome, the results not always accurate or fair, but anyone who has seen the sterling PBS Frontline documentary League of Denial understands preventative measures are necessary at every level of football.

In fairness to the coaches, they want a safe game. Many just don't agree with on-the-spot ejections -- and potential half-game suspensions the next week if the ejection took place in the second half -- decided by officials who might miss the call.

This happened in the season's first week with Cal defensive end Chris McCain, who was ejected against Northwestern on a hit that probably shouldn't have been a penalty but wasn't reviewed because of a technical failure with the replay official.

Miscalls will happen, but if players think twice about lowering helmets and alter tackling techniques, the targeting rule wins.

Below are NCAA-provided statistics upon request for a six-week progress report on the targeting rule, which has been in place since 2008 but includes ejections for the first time.

The NCAA is still tweaking the targeting rule. Starting last week, officials automatically referred to the instant replay official to determine if a targeting ejection is necessary. Through the first five weeks, using instant replay required a challenge from the coaches or officials asking for more review time.

Targeting stats, 2013

A sample of nearly 400 Football Bowl Subdivision games shows officials have encountered several targeting calls each week.

37: Number of targeting fouls through six weeks.

375: Number of games played at the FBS level through six weeks.

10.1: Average number of games per targeting foul.

86.3: Rough estimate of games with a targeting foul through 14 weeks of the 2013 regular season.

This average is slightly better than targeting penalties from 2012, when players only served a suspension if their conference office decided to punish them.

8: Average number of games per targeting foul last season, according to NCAA coordinator of officials Rogers Redding ( has requested the exact targeting numbers for last year)

Week 6 stats

Officials got tested at West Virginia-Baylor, which had two targeting instances. Mountaineers safety Darwin Cook stayed in the game after officials overturned his ejection on a hit coach Dana Holgorsen called "horrendous." WVU offensive lineman Adam Pankey was tossed on a call that was probably deserved. He led with his head.

55: Number of games officiated by FBS crews in Week 6.

5: Number of targeting fouls.

11: Number of games per targeting ejection.

2: Number of disqualifications reversed by instant replay.

Second opinions

With the speed of the game, getting every targeting call right from the field can be an arduous task but might improve over time. This is an imperfect process. Eddie Jackson's hit in Ole Miss-Alabama two weeks ago was a prime example.

10: Number of disqualifications reversed by instant replay.

27: Percentage of targeting fouls reversed (the 15-yard penalty stands whether or not the player is ejected for the hit).

75: Percentage of ejections deemed correct calls according to postgame review process (according to the NCAA).

FCS fares better

The Football Championship Series has played fewer games than the FBS but apparently displays safer tackling with the smaller sample size.

14: Number of targeting fouls in FCS play through six weeks.

238: Number of FCS games through six weeks.

17: Average number of games per targeting foul.

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