New rule changes in college football could impact games

by - Staff Writer -
Doug Rhoads explains the new rules to ACC media Monday in Greensboro. (TigerNet Staff)

GREENSBORO, N.C.- Doug Rhoads, the head of ACC football officials, jokingly said that every season he begins experimenting with drugs before the first ACC officiated game and enters rehab after the ACC Championship Game.

However, this season he may want to find the strongest drug possible because of the implementation of new NCAA rules and the repercussions from coaches and fans that are sure to follow.

The NCAA instituted additional penalties for targeting and initiating with the crown of the helmet as well as targeting a defenseless player and also changed the rules regarding illegal crack-back blocks, injuries within the last minute of a half or game and spiking the ball to stop the clock.

Rhoads addressed the media Monday morning at the ACC Kickoff and said that player safety isn’t just a buzzword, but a way of life in the NCAA.

“Player safety isn’t just a buzz word in college football,” Rhoads said. “So many of the rules changes over the last couple of years have been constructed because of player safety.”

The most controversial of the rules changes is that when a player is flagged for targeting and initiating with the crown of the helmet or targeting a defenseless player, the offender will be ejected.

“The rules in of themselves are unchanged, however the penalties have changed,” he said. “If a player is flagged for either one of those fouls, it requires an automatic ejection. If the player is flagged during the first half, then he must sit out the remainder of the game. If the foul occurs during the second half, he must sit out the first half of the next game. Those fouls are automatically reviewed by replay officials. If the call is overturned, the player can be reinstated, but the 15-yard penalty still stands.”

The crown of the helmet is specifically defined as the very top of the helmet. It is legal to hit with any other part of the helmet including the facemask.

Targeting a defenseless player is a little more cut and dried because there are nine types of players that can’t be hit above the shoulders at any point during the game.

Those nine players are: a player in the act of passing; a receiver attempting to catch a pass prior to controlling the ball and making a football move; a kicker in the act of kicking during a kick or return; a returner attempting to catch or return a kick prior to controlling the ball and making a football move; a player obviously out of bounds; a player who receives a blindside block, a ball carrier in the grasp of another player; and, a quarterback anytime after a change of possession.

When determining whether or not a player was targeting another player, Rhoads said there are several keys that he instructs his officials to look for.

“Here is what we look for,” he said. “Did the player leave his feet in an upward thrust? Did he crouch preceding the upward thrust? Did he lead with the helmet, forearm, fist, hand or elbow? Did he lower his head before attacking in order to initiate with the crown?”

An illegal crack-back block is a block below the waist. Players outside the tackle box (more than seven yards out) or a player in motion cannot block another player below the waist until after the ball is snapped and significant time has run off the clock. After time has run off the clock, any player may be blocked below the waist as long as the blocking player is in front of the player being blocked or is within a 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock zone.

The injury rule changed giving the offended team the option of a 10-second runoff if an injury occurs during the final minute of the half or game.

If an injury occurs during the final minute of a half or the game, and the injury is the only reason for the stoppage in play the offended team has the option of a ten second run-off. The offended team can, however, refuse the run-off. Also, if the offending team has a timeout, they can use that timeout to avoid the run-off. If both teams have injuries, there is no run-off. If there are less than 10 seconds on the clock at the end of a half or the game, and there is a 10-second runoff the game is over by rule.

There was also a change to the rule regarding spiking the ball to stop the clock.

When spiking the ball to stop the clock, there must be three seconds or more on the clock at the end of a half or the game in order for a team to spike the ball and stop the clock. If there is 2.9 seconds or less on the clock the team must run a play and cannot stop the clock by spiking the ball.

An example would be this: Suppose a team is driving for a winning field goal, and hurries to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball, stop the clock and bring on the field goal kicker. If that happens with 2.9 seconds or fewer on the game clock, the game will be deemed to be over.

There have been several rules changes in the recent past including rules for fighting, clipping and unsportsmanlike conduct have changed and every season, officials see a decline in the number of occurrences of those fouls.

“In 800 FBS games last year, there were only two flags for fighting,” Rhoads said. “ There were 27 calls for clipping. There were 64 horse collar calls which is still a lot but it has come down every year. There were only two calls for wedge block- where three or more player get together to block on a kickoff. And, only six calls for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Not only will coaches, fans and players see a change in rules this season, but there will also be several new faces on ACC officiating crews.

With the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louiville, Rhoads had to hire official in those geographic locations- something he jokingly called, “Yankee syndrome.”

“We have 10 crews and 15 replay officials. We had to expand because of a larger number of games,” he said. “We hired 21 new officials to replace retirees and to add to our crews. We recruit officials by area so it’s kind of like a Yankee syndrome because I had to go into New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky. We hired officials from different BCS conferences as well as dipped into our developmental list to fill two new crews.”

Rhoads said that the youngest ACC official is 39 years old and each crew member has at least five years of high school experience and five years of college experience.

With all of the new faces in ACC officiating, Rhoads will meet with all of the crews for three days in Charlotte to discuss the rules changes so that there will be uniformity and consistency in all ACC games.

*Writer’s Note: I’ve received some questions regarding Georgia Tech’s usage of the crack-back block, so I wanted to go a little more in depth about that particular rule change.

An Illegal crack-back block is a block below the waist by a restricted player. According to the NCAA rules, there are two types of players: restricted and unrestricted.

An unrestricted player is any player that is on the line of scrimmage and inside the tackle box and that includes any backs or linemen.

A restricted player is defined as a player outside the tackle box, more than seven yards from the center, or a player in motion. A player in motion cannot go outside the tackle box, come back in and block below the waist.

Here is the caveat for restricted players: Any player can block below the waist as long as time as run off the clock after the ball has snapped (Rhoads said one to two seconds) and the player you are blocking is in front of you or in a 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock zone.

Does Georgia Tech block below the waist? Absolutely.

Is it illegal? Not in most cases.

I’ve watched many of Georgia Tech’s games and in most cases the players blocking below the waist are those on the offensive line, which the way the rule reads is not illegal.

However, two years ago in Clemson’s game against the Yellow Jackets, a wide receiver blocked down on one of Clemson’s defensive backs and that, under the new rule is illegal because it occurred right after the ball was snapped.

Unfortunately, for Clemson and the rest of the ACC, I don’t think this new rule is going to change the way Paul Johnson teaches his offense to block.

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