Randy Ponder's ejection: Targeting rules are good in future tense, awful in the present

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Missourian: Missouri football loses another starter to targeting rule
KC Star: Tigers cornerback Randy Ponder kicked out after targeting penalty
Post-Dispatch: Tigers lose another starter to targeting penalty
The Trib: Tigers again hit with targeting penalty

Football is in an interesting place right now. In an attempt to minimize head injuries, the sport is instituting a lot of rules based around the concept of aiming too high. The goal is to basically change the fundamentals of tackling and playing defense, and 10 years from now, these rules will probably have had a positive effect. Players who are now eight or 10 years old will be more adept at tackling around the waist and whatnot, and that's fine; but for the current batch of college football players, their fundamentals are set.

In theory, the rules changes make sense. In practice, they are a nightmare. If you are hit with a targeting penalty, you are automatically ejected no matter the intent of the play. (And yes, the officials can review and potentially overturn the ejection; they also cannot overturn the penalty, which is again sensible in theory -- one doesn't want to go down the slippery slope of reviewing penalties via replay -- and an absolute horror show in practice.)

For the second straight home game, Mizzou lost a starting defender to a targeting penalty that had nothing to do with intent. Three weeks ago against Toledo, Andrew Wilson was ejected from the game because he didn't properly estimate where to hit a defender who had jumped into the air and was falling toward him. On Saturday, Randy Ponder was ejected from the game because, basically, he wasn't tall enough.

On ASU's second possession of the game, Adam Kennedy found the elusive J.D. McKissic for a short gain; Ponder closed quickly on McKissic, but the pass was a bit off-target, and McKissic had to lean toward the sideline to catch the pass. Ponder was aiming low, but McKissic's lean meant that, instead of chest or waist, Ponder hit shoulder and head. Heeven properly got his arms around McKissic, something few Mizzou defenders did all night. But because both players are 5'10, and because tackling is a bang-bang thing with a lot of guesswork, McKissic's midsection was not where Ponder guessed it would be. Therefore, Ponder was ejected.

Football officials feel they have to be doing something to curb the negative tide of head injuries and lasting effects. I understand that and encourage it, really. But the automatic ejection, and the proclaimed "When in doubt, throw 'em out" sentiment of the rule, is every bit the nightmare we felt it would be when the rule was announced this offseason. I completely get that accidentally going helmet to helmet is going to draw a penalty; it's like an incidental grab of the face mask. But adding an automatic ejection when there is no intent completely misses the point.

To me, it all comes down to simply asking "What could they have done differently?" In Andrew Wilson's case against Toledo, he technically could have aimed a little bit lower. It was another bang-bang play, and again, the receiver was falling toward him, so he basically had to guess where to make the hit; but yes, technically he could have aimed lower. With Ponder, I have absolutely no idea what he could have done differently. He wrapped his arms around the guy with the ball, he didn't aim high, he didn't act with malicious intent, and he didn't "target" anything other than the middle of J.D. McKissic. But he was ejected anyway. It was a perfect interpretation of an impossible rule.

Long-term, these rules are probably good for the sport. Short-term, they add a variable of complete randomness to an already random sport. When you make a tackle, you are basically rolling the dice; roll a snake eyes, and you're ejected whether you did anything particularly wrong or not. I understand, but I don't have to like it.

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