Ah, targeting. It's a call that can be as controversial as any in the college football world. Nebraska fans know firsthand. Former Husker safety Nathan Gerry's ejection for targeting in the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl left plenty baffled.
That's not the only targeting call Nebraska fans have seen. Gerry was also ejected for targeting against Iowa in 2015 (although that ejection was less controversial). And then there was safety Aaron Williams' ejection for targeting against Rutgers in 2017. In Williams' instance, he wasn't initially flagged for the hit. Officials reviewed the play, which allowed them to determine targeting had occurred. He was disqualified from the game.
Nebraska fans have seen it all when it comes to the targeting rule in college football. So have other fan bases. Does that mean there could be changes to it down the road? Maybe, but Bill Carollo, Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials, doesn't see that happening immediately.
"There are no changes to the targeting rule in 2018," Carollo said at Big Ten Media Days. "We discussed it in the offseason quite a bit. We feel that we're comfortable where we're at on that today. Sometimes the coaches are not as comfortable as we are, but player safety is still the number one priority for us."
In 2016, the Big Ten enforced 16 targeting calls. In 2017, that number jumped to 25. Across the country, targeting was up around 32 percent overall last year.
Carollo knows the increase may concern some fans, but there's a reason for the jump.
"I think we've done a better job at recognizing targeting on the field," Carollo said. "And I think because last year we've put into the rules that the replay, if we do miss it on the field, that targeting can be created in replay.
"That's why we had quite a few more reviews last year, especially in the targeting area."
For context, targeting calls were not the only thing to jump. So did overall reviews. In the Big Ten specificlly, total reviews went from 226 in 2016 to 256 in 2017.
And while officials are able to recognize targeting a little better than they have in the past, Carollo admits it's still not consistent across the board. A big piece of the inconsistency has to do with the definition of targeting. If that's not understood the same by all, plays that should be targeting can be missed and plays that shouldn't be can be incorrectly called.
"We have to first define what is targeting," Carollo said. "There's two versions of it — 9.1.3 and 9.1.4. 9.1.3 is basically don't use the top of your helmet, the crown of your helmet. And we keep refining what the definition of "crown" is. But if you target, go after, take aim at an opponent and use the top of your helmet, go in and lead with that, you're going to hurt yourself versus your opponent. So that's one part of the rule.
"Most of the targeting calls, I think it's nine out of ten calls, they're not with the crown. They're hitting the opponent above the shoulders, in the head and neck area, with force — so it's got to be above the shoulders, with forceable contact — and it has to have an indicator. Indicator meaning that he has to thrust upward, he has to launch, he has to take aim, et cetera.
"And if it's just a normal — what we tell them, a normal tackle would be with your head up, a wrap-up with your arms and trying to get your head to the side. If you have those good indicators there's a good chance you won't get that."
There's risk in football. Carollo knows that. Certain plays can make it a dangerous game, and targeting is one of the biggest reasons.
With that said, Carollo has noticed the malicious intent surrounding targeting has dropped. He credits the coaches for teaching proper tackling techniques for that.
Carollo will continue to meet with officials, athletic directors and coaches across the country to better enhance the rules of college football. Targeting may not be changing for now, but it's something he'll continue to evaluate.
Because for every controversial call, he knows safety ultimately remains the top priority.
"Officiating is not a perfect science," Carollo said. "But we're confident that our staff today is properly prepared and ready for the challenge for 2018."
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.