FARGO — The Missouri Valley Football Conference has a targeting problem.

Actually, it has an officiating problem.

Too often players are hit viciously in the helmet by a tackler and the deed goes unpunished.

Sometimes the player who was hit has to leave the game.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Twice in the last three weeks, players were the victims of egregious targeting hits.

Twice in the last three weeks, there was no penalty called on the field nor after official video review.

What we have in the Valley is an officials problem and a replay officials problem in specific. As in the officials apparently have the eyesight of Mr. Magoo. Look up the reference, people under the age of 50.

Which spurs the question: Then what good is video review?

If a replay official can't get a call correct with multiple video angles and as much time as he needs, then what's the point?

If the Valley is all about player safety, player safety, player safety ... then where is the concern over player safety when targeting goes unpenalized?

I'd be happy to talk with anyone from the Valley about officiating and targeting, but the league offers nothing. It would rather hide than speak publicly about the process that goes into officiating and specifically targeting calls and non-calls.

First it was North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson, who was the target of a helmet-to-helmet tackle that went unpenalized Oct. 9 against Northern Iowa.

The latest victim of pointless and incorrect video review was South Dakota quarterback Carson Camp, who was knocked out of the Coyotes' game against Illinois State last Saturday after he was hit in the head by Redbirds' linebacker Shanon Reid early in the second quarter.

There was no flag thrown on the field by referee Matt Gallagher's crew. But the video booth buzzed to review the play and did so.

After review, according to Midco Sports Network broadcaster Jay Elsen, video replay official Terry Young said Reid did not hit Camp with the crown of his helmet and instead hit Camp with his shoulder.

Replay clearly shows both assertions to be incorrect. Reid clearly hit Camp in the head with the crown of his helmet, which is anything other than the mask all the way around.

I asked USD's athletic department whether it had received word from the Valley that the call was incorrect, but did not receive an answer. The league reviews plays such as the hit on Camp and will alert the schools if officials got a call wrong. That happened after Watson was hit in the head by UNI's Bennie Sapp III.

Whether the league owned up to the latest mistake is unknown. But rules expert Terry McAulay, a former NFL official who is the NBC's officiating guru for Sunday Night Football and Notre Dame games, said via Twitter Camp was clearly targeted.

"This is a targeting foul," McAulay wrote in response to a posting of video showing Reid's hit. "The defender lowers his head and leads with the crown of the helmet. He makes forcible contact to an opponent using the crown. The crown is any part of the helmet above the mask all the way around."

College rules say players can't target and make "forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet." Two of the indicators of targeting include "leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area" and "lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet."

Reid, by the way, was ejected from two earlier Illinois State games for targeting and appeared to hit NDSU quarterback Quincy Patterson II in the head twice in a game Oct. 16 in Normal. Neither play was flagged or reviewed.

The penalty for targeting in college football is ejection. If a player is ejected in the second half of a game, he must sit out the first half of his team's next contest. NDSU will be without starting safety Dawson Weber for the first half of Saturday's game against Indiana State after he was properly called for targeting in the third quarter of last week's game against Missouri State.

USD coach Bob Nielson, speaking with Elsen for a weekly video, said he's optimistic Camp will return for the Coyotes' next game Nov. 6, but was frustrated by the non-call. Nielson seemed to be asking the question many are: If video replay officials can't get call right, then what's the point?

"We have those guys up there because they're supposed to get it right," Nielson said. "You look at the video now, the same video that he had and watched during the game, you wonder how the call didn't get made as a confirmed targeting."

"We don't get the luxury as coaches to understand the process that goes through that," Nielson said. "It's a difficult thing when you lose a quarterback on a hit like that and it goes unpenalized in a situation where you feel it is a penalty."

That's about as spicy as Bob Nielson is going to get. Coaches generally are careful to not be too critical of officiating. For obvious reasons the league frowns on it and the coaches know they someday might be the beneficiary of a missed call. You don't want to mess with karma.

Camp was the second player drilled in the head whose tackler went unpenalized.

First was Watson, who was smacked in the head by Sapp and left the game briefly. Watson caught a pass over the middle and was in the process of being tackled when Sapp shot in and drilled Watson in the side of the head with his helmet, spinning the Bison receiver like a helicopter rotor.

The play was so obviously a targeting call that I, sitting in the press box high in the dome a couple of hundred yards away from the play, said audibly, "Holy (expletive), that's targeting. Is Watson OK?"

But no yellow flag flew and the officials on the field were ready to let the next snap go when referee Matt Packowski blew his whistle and said the play was under review. All 18,536 fans in the Fargodome leaned back waiting for the obvious call to be announced.

Instead, Packowski turned on his microphone and said Sapp "did not use the crown of his helmet."

The conference contacted Bison head coach Matt Entz the next Monday and said the officials made an incorrect call.

I asked the conference for a statement from the director of officials Bill Carollo on what happens to the officials that made the mistake and the response was: "The league’s officiating consortium has an extensive training and review program. Plays of this nature are reviewed by staff in the Command Center in Chicago, both during games and afterward. Staff communicates the results of those reviews to the head coach and also addresses plays of that nature with the crew."

It was a non-answer, avoiding responsibility for the review officials mistake.

Sapp, by the way, was ejected from last Saturday's game against South Dakota State for targeting.

It should've been his second in three weeks. And Illinois State's Reid should've had another targeting penalty in Vermillion.

Targeting calls on the field can be tough, just like holds or pass interference or any number of judgment calls.

But with multiple angles available for review of targeting calls, how can the Valley officials be so bad at this?