Southeastern Conference football official Stan Murray, left, visits with Columbus Exchange Club member Dan Wrather after speaking Thursday at Lion Hills Center. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
September 22, 2017 10:35:04 AM
While targeting penalties are up 73 percent this year, veteran Southeastern Conference football official Stan Murray said he believes the message of the dangers of targeting are getting through to players and coaches alike.
Murray, a former Mississippi State player who lives in Starkville, has been an SEC official for 31 years. After 29 years on the field as a back judge, Murray has worked the past two years as observer/communications director in the replay booth where targeting penalties are reviewed.
"They are playing different," Murray said during his talk at Thursday's Columbus Exchange Club meeting at Lion Hills Center.
Targeting is defined as an act where a player uses the crown of his helmet to strike an opponent above the shoulders or strikes the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with a helmet, forearm, hand, elbow or shoulder.
Although head-to-head contact has been against the rules for years, it was not considered a penalty unless that contact was intentional. Today, a targeting penalty carries a 15-yard penalty, and the player is ejected from the game and suspended for the first half of the team's next game.
Murray said the strengthened penalties are driving home the message.
"In fact, if you go to a practice, you'll see that teams are practicing different," Murray said. "They have more tackling exercises where they are getting those players to tackle without leading with the head. They have specific exercises just for that. They do that especially in August before the season starts and then, probably about once a week during the season.
"The coaches are coaching them differently and the players don't want to get thrown out of the game," he added. "You've only got 12 games. I think they understand."
Roger Short, a longtime high school referee and crew chief in the Golden Triangle, said he believes the message is getting across to high school coaches and players, too.
"We have the same targeting rule as college football," Short said. "The biggest difference is that we don't have the option to look at a video and confirm or overturn a targeting call we make of the field.
"We've only had the targeting rule for a couple of years, but I do see a difference," he continued. "We've been fortunate. I can't recall a targeting call that we've had to make since the rule was adopted. I think the coaches have adapted and have cleaned that up."
Short said the key to ending targeting is teaching.
"I favor flag-football for the younger kids," Short said. "But when they do start playing tackle football, it's really going to be up to those youth coaches to teach them the right way to tackle. If you can teach the right way when they are just starting, I think you'll see a big difference."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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