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Has Targeting Rule Revolutionized College Football?

by Dan Harralson
Oct 23, 2013 3:31 PM EDT



The targeting rule has hit college football this year in a way that most people probably didn't expect. 

Players, coaches and the media talked about the rule change often throughout all of the conference media days in July. The majority supported the rule, but the majority also did not expect the targeting rule to drastically change the game of football.   

Football is quickly turning into basketball on grass. Football plays resemble shooting guards drawing fouls driving the lane. CBS's Gary Danielson chimed in during the Auburn and Texas A&M game, postulating football may see a hitting zone in the future, much like baseball's strike zone. Tackles made below the knee when a back or receiver are going full speed are just as dangerous as a lot of the targeting hits.

It doesn't matter if we like the new rule. It is here to stay and has forever changed the game almost as drastically as the 1905 rule change to allow the forward pass in the sport. Sixty-two schools met that year, in New York, to change the rules and make the game safer. They made a number of changes, including banning the “flying wedge," a formation that often caused serious injury. The change created the neutral zone between offense and defense and required teams to move 10 yards, not five, in three downs.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt called for the rule changes to make the game safer. Roosevelt's son was playing on Harvard's football team at that time and that is one of the reasons he took a strong stance for the rule changes.

The forward pass was the most revolutionary change. However, the forward pass did not take off immediately. Among other discouragements, an incomplete pass resulted in a turnover.

St. Louis quarterback Bradbury Robinson and his Bilikens team did not mind sacrificing an incomplete pass as Robinson completed the first legal pass on September 5, 1906. He threw a 20-yard 'bomb' to Jack Schneider against Carroll College. That completion came after Robinson’s first attempt fell incomplete, resulting in a turnover. St. Louis went on to win the game 22-0.

The forward pass really did not take full effect until the 1907 season. Much like the modern-day spread offense, the spread started with a few coaches running it and now the majority of college football is running some form of it. Pop Warner took over as the head coach of the Carlisle Industrial School. Warner had a great player leading his offense in Jim Thorpe. Forward passes and trick plays helped speed up the revolution of the game. Carlisle defeated football powerhouses Penn and Harvard and the games' revolution was here to stay.  

The sport once again saw changes to the forward pass in 1951. On January 18, 1951, it was deemed that a center, tackle or guard could receive a forward pass. Could you imagine Art Briles or Mike Leach throwing the ball around pre-1951? Offensive lineman probably would have 10 catches a game.

College football is on the path to change with the continuous safety precautions running rampant throughout the sport. Skilled athletes running wild in the designed schemes of spread offenses have amplified the defensive challenges. Balanced championship football has lost out to flag football offenses that seem unstoppable due to the targeting rule that won't let teams play hard-nosed defense.  

Much like Pop Warner's Carlisle Indians offense, teams that adapt quicker will have an advantage because the game has changed forever and teams playing true defensive football will get left behind in part because of the targeting rule.