The worst rule in football


Yessiree, it is football season! As you know I am a football junkie, I like it all; High School, College and professional. Since I was a High School football official for 27 years, I take particular interest in the officiating of the games. There are particular rule differences with the 3 different leagues, but most are just variations of the same thing.

One example I will give is the use of the helmet when making a tackle. Before I get on my rant about this, let me say that the College and Professional ranks are far behind in player safety. Use of the helmet to make a tackle has been banned for years in High School.

They called it “Spearing” back in the day, and it was a penalty with ejection. The college and Pro’s just adopted this rule several years ago, or rather just started enforcing it, with the rash of concussion injuries they were seeing. The problem I have with this rule is the way the college’s and pro’s enforce the rule.

It is ridiculous! I am for player safety, but come on, let’s be reasonable about this! If you use your helmet in High School to make a tackle, you are penalized. Simple. The way the colleges and pro’s do it leaves too much guessing for me!

My biggest problem with this is the “targeting” part of it. Targeting indicates that the defensive player in most situations has “intentionally” lowered his head to use the crown of the helmet to tackle the runner or receiver and cause harm. That is certainly a noble idea!

HOWEVER, no account is taken for the player being tackled for lowering his head to meet the tackler! Herein lies the problem; if I am aiming at the runner’s chest, and my head is lower than his, and he lowers his to meet me and we hit helmet to helmet, in most cases I am called for “targeting”! That is a total crock and frustrates me to no end!

How do they figure this? What could possibly be the rationale for this foolishness? I know, I know, they are saying they are trying to protect the runner/receiver from injury……but what about the defender? Doesn’t he deserve to be protected too?

In 27 years of officiating, I could tell easily when a player was using his head for spearing. I do not see why it is so hard in the upper levels. If you watched the Ohio State/Penn State game you saw one of the worst targeting calls made this year. Even the announcers, and the post game people stated that they hoped the Big 10 would overturn the decision. I agree, this call went beyond safety. It was a complete misinterpretation of the intent of the rule.

Announcers and commentators always remind us that football is a contact sport; it is not, it is a collision sport and some collisions are violent and some are even meant to harm the opponent……most are not. It is very easy to me the ones that are meant to injure a player.

If the player “launches” his body at the head and neck area of a player, it is targeting. If he just lowers his head and the runner does too, that is not targeting. That is a mistake by the runner in my opinion, and no intent to injure was made by either player.

Players are going to get injured playing football, it is inherent within the sport. I totally agree with doing everything possible to make it safer. It is what the sport should do and I think they are doing a good job of it.

The advancements in pads and especially helmets are laudable. The targeting rule was a good step too. I agree with the premise, I just completely disagree with how it is enforced. Hopefully, the colleges and professional ranks will take a closer look at this rule and not make it so one-sided. Let’s use some more common sense. That’s the way I see it from the sidelines.

P.S. – I feel the same way about runners and receivers being able to grab facemasks to avoid a tackle too……but that’s another rant for another day!

By Michael Stegall

From the Sidelines

Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27 year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner

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