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High school football panel defines targeting in rules makeover

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee announced last week that it’s developed a definition for “targeting.”

Targeting has been a penalty in the NFL and college football since last season. It is whistled when a player strikes a defenseless opponent above the shoulders. Bruce Hulion, the South Carolina High School League’s commissioner of football officiating, said during a phone conversation Friday that the targeting call is not a new rule.

“We’ve had a rule in place, gosh, since I first started,” he said. “It’s an old rule that we had, but you know the nature of NCAA football and stuff, everybody sees that and the hot topic is targeting now so the federation added a definition of targeting. It doesn’t mean we have a new rule.”

Hulion, who was a football official for 39 years and has been with the SCHSL since 1999, was on a 51-member sub-committee that passed the targeting definition, as well as nine other rules and clarifications during its meeting in Indianapolis last month.

He asked the sub-committee, “ ‘Do we think that an emphasis on this or creating another rule that says pretty much the same thing as what we already have is going to change this?’ My opinion is it will not, but it got passed anyway.”

The NFHS has defined targeting this way in its new rule: “Targeting is an act of taking aim and initiating contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders.” The rule, which will be effective beginning with the 2014 season, went on to define a defenseless player as, “a player who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury.”

Bob Colgate, the NFHS director of sports and sports medicine, said in a press release last week that the Football Rules Committee determined it was important to highlight targeting.

“Taking aim with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders to initiate contact above the shoulders, which goes beyond making a legal tackle, a legal block or playing the ball, will be prohibited,” he said.

During a phone conversation Friday, Hulion said that the rule has been on South Carolina’s books since 1985. But adding the buzzword “targeting” at least makes it appear that the NFHS is taking the same steps as college football and the NFL.

“I think that’s the sole reason,” said Hulion. “I didn’t argue against it. I said I don’t see the need for it since we already have a rule about initiating contact above the shoulders. It’s there, it’s rule 2-2-3. It’s a duplication of efforts in my opinion.”

It’s not that the NFHS doesn’t care about player safety in football; far from it. Hulion expects the call to be made more this year because of the extra emphasis, but he hoped officials were already making the call when it occurred. The only difference is now an official may cite targeting during his explanation to coaches or the crowd.

There will be no difference in enforcement; there will still be a 15-yard penalty and a player can be ejected, just as he could be ever since the 1980s when the high school game began to stamp out clothesline tackles. Ejections will not be automatic, a topic that caught fire at the NCAA level.

Another of the 10 rules introduced requires all players on kickoffs to be within 5 yards of the ball at kickoff, with the obvious exception of the kicker. Hulion explained that this rule should limit offside calls on the kicking team, meaning fewer rekicks. Kickoffs have been widely viewed as the most dangerous play in the sport, thus fewer should make the game safer.

“We’re trying to prevent that guy from arriving there at the same time as the football,” said Hulion. “That will be the most visible rule change.”

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