Michigan senior linebacker and team captain Joe Bolden was ejected during the first half of the game against Michigan State on Saturday because of a questionable targeting penalty.
On the play, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook tucked and ran the ball through the middle and began to slide as another Michigan linebacker, Desmond Morgan, was diving in to make the tackle. Morgan’s dive and Cook’s slide began almost simultaneously. Shortly after, Bolden lands on top of Cook after the whistles had blown, and so the flags came out for targeting.
Despite the fact that it seemed overwhelmingly clear that Bolden was being blocked and pushed down into Cook by Michigan State offensive lineman Jack Conklin (to everyone but the officials, apparently), the call was upheld after review and Bolden was ejected.
Oh, and in case you somehow think I’m on an island in believing the call was questionable (or you’re currently wearing green and white), check out the following:
Exhibit 1,245 of why we need to STOP EJECTING players for targeting. It was a rule created as a complete overreaction to concussions. — Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) October 17, 2015
Rules committee needs to completely scrap the targeting rule and come up with something new. The inconsistency is maddening.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 17, 2015
Michigan’s Joe Bolden is ejected for targeting. I don’t agree with that call. Michigan St lineman pushed him down.
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) October 17, 2015
And best of all:
That call — EzekielElliott#⃣1⃣5⃣ (@EzekielElliott) October 17, 2015
If words aren’t enough to convince you, check out the video evidence:
I tweeted the following Monday and received an immediate response, the majority of which was in shock to how poorly judged these two instances were by officials in their respective games:
— Mitch Wilcox (@mitch_wilcox) October 19, 2015
Convinced the call on Bolden was questionable now? For those unaware, the top GIF is of Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel sliding and being hit by Memphis defensive back Chauncey Lanier earlier this season.
Kiel laid motionless on the field after the play, aside from his chest quickly rising and falling in short breaths, and was carefully placed on a stretcher, carted off the field and taken to a hospital. Meanwhile, Lanier was flagged for targeting, but the call was overturned after review determined he “led with his shoulder” and was eligible to finish the game.
Fans cheering as the flag is waived off as Kiel is motionless being wheeled off on a cart. One of the worst, most awkward moments I’ve seen.
— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) September 25, 2015
The problem with that ruling: the NCAA still defines that as targeting.
Hits like Lanier’s on Kiel are the exact kind the targeting penalty was designed to remove from the game in the name of player safety. The NCAA rules (9-1-3 and 9-1-4) that outline the targeting penalty are rather involved, and you can view the entire explanation of them with examples and indicators on the American Football Coaches Association website, but here is the meat of it all:
Targeting and Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 9-1-3)
No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.
Targeting and Initiating Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player (Rule 9-1-4)
No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, fist, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul. (Rule 2-27-14)
Notice how it lists the shoulder as a body part a player cannot use to “target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent” in the definition for Rule 9-1-4? Because apparently the AAC officials on the field and in the booth that night in Memphis weren’t aware.
It seems clear that by launching himself towards the head of Kiel that Lanier fulfilled the NCAA definition of targeting with an “apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball.” Can you honestly say the same for the play involving Bolden?
The major point here is that targeting is the most convoluted penalty in college football, and it’s only second in inconsistency in all of sports because the NFL has absolutely NO idea what a catch is anymore (e.g., Golden Tate’s “touchdown” against the Bears Sunday vs. Tyler Eifert’s “non-touchdown” against the Ravens a few weeks ago).
And both rules are part of what is currently plaguing football right now: over-legislation.
The game is at a point where not just fans, but supposed experts can’t come to agreement on calls. How many times have you watched an NFL game and heard Mike Pereira or Mike Carey brought in to offer an opinion on a call and either disagree with the call made or be unable to 100 percent claim a call should go one way or another?
Folks, it shouldn’t be that hard. Especially now with the increased ability in the world to get calls correct via replay reviews and coach’s challenges.
Aside from the improbable finish, the main storyline from the Michigan State-Michigan game became officiating, despite it otherwise being another fantastic chapter in the rivalry. Missed and poor calls that hurt both teams ruled the day, and Jim Harbaugh didn’t shy away from saying as much, as Adam Biggers wrote for Today’s U.
It is unfortunate for a game like that to be marred by poor officiating.
It is shameful for a senior and team captain playing in his final game against a rival with conference and national title implications on the line to be robbed of that opportunity on that stage by poor officiating.
But it is inhuman to see the hit on Kiel and watch him lie motionless on the field, and yet be oblivious to the complete definition and application of the one rule that is supposed to be a safeguard to him in that situation.
I take no issue with the targeting rule as it is rooted in player safety. The perpetual inconsistencies in its implementation even with replay review, however, need to be addressed by the NCAA immediately.