Friday, April 15, 2011

NCAA Goes Four for Five on Rules Changes

("I strongly disagree with your intepretation of the rulebook!" Image USA Today.)

Only the final two will get any attention, but all five of the changes to the college football rulebook made by the Player Rules Oversight Panel deserve mention:

Beginning this coming season, blocking below the waist will be illegal except on scrimmage plays in the following instances:
  • Wide receivers more than seven yards from the center at the snap of the ball can block below the waist only against a player facing him or toward the nearest sideline.
  • Running backs/receivers in the backfield and outside the tackle box (the area five yards on either side of the center) or players in motion can block below the waist only on players facing them or toward the nearest sideline.
Players on the line of scrimmage within seven yards of the center are still allowed to block below the waist anywhere on the field.
This is not drastically different from previous years, except that it makes the call somewhat easier for the referees to call, especially for players in motion. If you thought the rule was a good one before (and I've never heard a complaint about it), then this is a net positive.
Also in the player-safety vein, the panel approved penalizing instances in which three defensive players line up shoulder-to-shoulder and move forward on place kicks. Coaches on the NCAA Football Rules Committee cited examples of where one offensive lineman is overpowered by three defensive players in an attempt to penetrate the line of scrimmage to block a kick.
I thought this was already in the rules, much like lining up directly over the center and stepping on another defensive player to get a boost are forbidden. Once again, I don't have a problem with this, as the end result of these plays is usually a second-string guard being trampled by 850 pounds of mass.

Now, onto the changes people are actually going to talk about:
Another new football rule that will be enforced is a 10-second rundown of the game clock if a team commits a foul that stops the clock in the final minute of both halves. 
The opponent has three options in these instances:
  • Take the yardage penalty and the 10-second rundown.
  • Take the yardage penalty without the 10-second rundown.
  • Decline both the 10-second rundown and the penalty yardage.
I.e., the Dooley Rule:

Like Matt Hinton, I think this is mostly unnecessary, seeking to solve a problem that only rarely exists. Unlike Hinton though, I think that this is probably the way the rule should have been written in the first place, so even if it won't prevent many situations like the above, it's still a better rule.

Hinton's objection is that a football game is 60 minutes, and that imposing a ten second runoff shortens that time just as much as if a fraction of the field was buzzed off one side. I think in the majority of cases, the runoff is replicating what would have happened in absence of the penalty. For example, he cites intentional grounding penalties, but the reason for the penalty there is that the play should have been a sack, which would result in a running clock and loss of yardage. The clock runoff now more closely approximates how the game would have been had the penalty not been committed. The rule is less obvious with penalties such as false starts but there the concern is that teams will take the penalty and the stopped clock over the running clock; giving the offending team that option is lengthening the game, even if not on the official clock.

The change that will get the most attention is this:
This will be the first year of the rule change regarding unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which will be treated as either live-ball or dead-ball fouls. Previously, all fouls of this kind were treated as dead-ball fouls. 
The change means, for example, that if a player makes a taunting gesture to an opponent on the way to scoring a touchdown, the flag would nullify the score and penalize the offending team 15 yards from the spot of the foul. 
Penalties for dead-ball misconduct fouls (for example, unsportsmanlike behavior after the player crosses the goal line) continue to be assessed on the ensuing kickoff or the extra point/two point conversion attempt.
Just because this is going to be hilarious when it happens does not mean that it won't be awful, too. The NCAA rules are too rigid on this front already, and taking away a score because a kid high-steps into the end zone isn't going to help anyone enjoy the game more. Boo, NCAA.

Finally, coaches can get live broadcasts of the game in their boots for deciding whether to challenge a call on the field, which I thought was already true. Usually this doesn't matter much in college because everything within the same zip code of a close call is already reviewed by the officials; coaching challenges are usually the last desperate heave in the face of all available evidence. But giving the staffs a little more evidence can't be a bad thing.