This was the first "targeting" ejection that I have seen in real-time. I think that anytime a "targeting" penalty arises, the player in question is automatically going to be stained with a kind of prejudice, for all of the subsequent views on slow-mo replay.
I was shocked that this good football play resulted in a penalty and an ejection.
This article embeds a .gif of the play. Not very good video quality, but it's all there is right now; even this .gif might not survive. If anybody has better video, feel free to add.
The NCAA, rightly anticipating trouble with the targeting rule, issued a memo in March containing a bulletin on the targeting rule:
From the text of the bulletin:
Target—to take aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with an apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball.
Crown of the Helmet—the top portion of the helmet.
Contact to the head or neck area—not only with the helmet, but also with the forearm, fist, elbow, or shoulder—these can all lead to a foul.
Defenseless player—a player not in position to defend himself.
Examples (Rule 2-27-14):
A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.
A receiver attempting to catch a pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
A kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball, or during the kick or the return.
A kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick.
A player on the ground.
A player obviously out of the play.
A player who receives a blind-side block.
A ball carrier already in the grasp of an opponent and whose forward progress has been stopped.
A quarterback any time after a change of possession.
Risk of a foul is high with one or more of these:
Launch—a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make contact in the head or neck area
A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with contact at the head or neck area—even though one or both feet are still on the ground
Leading with helmet, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with contact at the head or neck area
Lowering the head before attacking by initiating contact with the crown of the helmet
These indicate less risk of a foul:
Heads-up tackle in which the crown of the helmet does not strike above the shoulders
Head is to the side rather than being used to initiate contact
Incidental helmet contact that is not part of targeting but is due to the players changing position during the course of play
So I'd have to agree that in the Lukehart play, the receiver was indeed a "defenseless player" by rule. But geeze, he's trying to catch a touchdown pass. Anyway, rules is rules.
But did Lukehart hit with the crown of his helmet? Absolutely not.
Did he lead with his helmet, forearm, fist, etc.? No.
Did he lower his head to "attack"? No. He moved his head to his own left side, to avoid head-to-head contact.
Did he "strike" the head or neck of the defenseless player? I think not. It looked like Lukehart's shoulder pads hitting the upper chest of the reciever.
Lukehart's feet do seem to have left the ground in the other video I saw, watching the game live.
In context, there was nothing dirty about this game or Lukehart's play that I saw. In real time, it looked worse than it was, with the scary split second when both players were on the ground motionless and one wondered whether they would get up. (Both players were uninjured and got up right away.) That same split second was when the ref made a "targeting" decision. (Note: the play was reviewed in the game by the replay officials and was "confirmed." The refs seemingly had no doubt.)
Anyway, I can understand differing opinions on this one. But my view is that it is either a bad call or a bad rule. Lukehart does not deserve the infamy of a suspension that will last into the the next game BSU plays.