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College targeting rule not a good fit for NFL

Sep 16, 2017; Boulder, CO, USA; NCAA referee Steven Strimling calls an ejection for targeting on Colorado Buffaloes defensive lineman Chris Mulumba (16) (not pictured) as Northern Colorado Bears quarterback Jacob Knipp (7) (background) is escorted off the field in the second half at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The recent uptick in ejections and suspensions for on-field infractions is forcing the NFL to take a hard look at adopting college football’s targeting rule. It’s a highly controversial rule that comes with a mandatory ejection and possible suspension for making contact with a defenseless player above the shoulders.

Not only would Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster have been ejected from Monday night’s game after the hit he put on Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but since the hit occurred in the second half of the game, he would have been suspended for the first half of Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. Teams are only docked a 15-yard penalty if the player is ejected in the first half.

That could become the NFL’s harsh new reality when the competition committee convenes in February to discuss a potential rule change. It’s doesn’t feel like anything more than a knee-jerk reaction to the recent string of on-field incidents.

Ejecting a player for such a penalty is too steep a punishment that could potentially alter the outcome of games. If anything, the league could take a stiffer stance on immediate ejections for plays after the whistle, such as when New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski slammed his forearm in the back of Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White’s head.

There was also the choke-slam Bengal wideout A.J. Green put on Jacksonville Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey that went unpunished. Green should have immediately been removed from the game after that incident. Yet, the league appears to be more concerned with gray-area hits that may or may not be egregious, depending on who’s calling the game.

“We’ve seen it work,” NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said during a conference call on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. “It’s worked to a degree. It’s clean. That play is a reviewable play at the collegiate level. But we think there’s been some positives, talking to some of the conferences and the officials [at the NCAA level] and also some of the student-athletes, that it is a deterrent. It’s something that we will consider. It is on our agenda.”

The NFL should consider it and then forget it.

There are already enough ticky-tack calls in the league. Imagine a playoff scenario in which a key player is ejected in the second half of one game and then suspended for the first half the next. It’ll be a messy situation in which a referee’s on-field decision could literally decide a team’s season. We can all honestly say the targeting calls have been hit-or-miss.

There are far too many things to factor into a play, particularly head placement and intent. Perhaps it would be wiser for the league to stay out of the gray zone and get more consistent in calling black and white infractions, such as elbowing or choking another man.

Stop missing the calls that can’t be missed.

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