This is the first of three articles written for RaiderPower.com regarding the 2011 NCAA football rule changes confirmed by the NCAA Football Rules committee in their February 2011 safety and sportsmanship meeting. Also confirmed were the changes offered in the 2010 meeting proposed to go into effect this upcoming 2011 season. The rules and explanations are derived from the 2011 and 2012 Rules and Interpretations book, as well as explanations from the July edition of Referee Magazine. For exact rule language, see the above publications.
The rule change considered most important from the safety angle, is blocking below the waist.
BLOCKING BELOW the WAIST: (9-1-6)
The committee altered rules regarding blocking below the waist in an effort to enhance player safety. "This is a significant change because now the default philosophy is that blocking below the waist is now ILLEGAL except under certain circumstances", says Rogers Redding, secretary-editor of the rules committee. "Before, the philosophy was that blocking below the waist was legal, but there was an extensive list of times when one couldn't do it." Thus a principle is established that blocking below the waist shall be a foul except for limited circumstances when it appears less dangerous than others.
All blocking below the waist (other than against the ball carrier) is illegal after a change of possession, and on any down that includes a kick.
Blocking below the waist is allowed in the following instances:
(a) Players of the offensive team who at the snap are on the line of scrimmage – more than 7 yards from the middle lineman of the offensive formation, or who are in the backfield - outside the tackle box, or who are in motion, may block below the waist only along a north-south line, or toward the sideline nearest (adjacent) to them at the snap. When in doubt, it is a foul.
(b) Players of the offensive team who at the snap are inside the tackle box, or who are on the line of scrimmage inside the 7 yard limit at the snap, may block below the waist in any direction.
(c) Players of the defensive team who at the snap are inside the blocking zone extended to the sideline may block below the waist inside that area until the blocking zone disintegrates. That time occurs when the ball leaves that zone. This basically means linemen and linebackers.
Eliminated is the wording referring to the "original position of the ball". Under the new rule, the location of the ball at the snap doesn't matter in reference where the blocker started the play and toward which sideline he may block below the waist. Also eliminated is the 10 yard restriction for downfield blocks. No longer must a team be in scrimmage kick formation; no blocking below the waist is allowed in any play in which there is any type of kick, or during a down after which there is a change of possession.
The penalty continues to be a 15 yard personal foul, and if by the defense, an automatic first down for team A.
Let's look at some examples.
Play #1: Team A's pass is intercepted by the safety. During his runback, a teammate blocks below the waist. Ruling: Illegal block below the waist after the change of possession. 15 yards from the spot of the foul or end of the run, but the team B retains possession of the ball.
Play #2: On a kick off, a member of the return team blocks below the waist while the kick is (a) in flight, or (b) during the run back by his teammate. In either case the block is illegal, because ALL blocking below the waist (other than against the ball carrier) is illegal on any down that includes a kick.
Play #3: On a pass play, the fullback positioned inside the tackle box at the snap, blocks a blitzing linebacker below the waist. Regardless of where the linebacker started the play, the block is legal because players of the offensive team who at the snap are inside the tackle box may block below the waist without restriction.
Play #4: A back lined up in the slot to the left of his team formation, outside the tackle box, blocks the corner in front and below the waist (a) directly toward the team B goal line; (b) at an angle toward the Left sideline; or (c) at an angle toward the sideline to his right.
Ruling: Because of his position at the snap, the slot back is restricted how he may legally block below the waist. In (a) and (b), the block is legal because it is in the north-south line in (a), and toward "the sideline adjacent to him" in (b). However (c) is illegal because the block was neither north-south nor toward the adjacent sideline.
Play #5: The same formation as in #4, except the play is a sweep to the right side of the formation. The cornerback in front of the slot back moves across the formation behind the linebackers with the slot back chasing him trying to block him. Just beyond the right hash mark, the slot back overtakes the corner and blocks him from the front or side, below the waist. The direction of that block is (a) back toward the left sideline, (b) directly along the north-south line; or (c) slightly off the north-south line toward the right sideline.
Ruling: The slot's nearest, or adjacent sideline, is to the LEFT. Thus (a) and (b) are legal, but (c) is illegal. That block, although across the field, is toward the non-adjacent sideline of the slot back at the snap. In previous years, the block(c) would have been legal because it was AWAY from the location of the ball at the snap. Under the new rule, the original position of the ball does not matter.
Play #6: The tight end lines up 8 yards to the right on the line of scrimmage. He blocks the outside linebacker from the front below the waist (a) directly toward team B's goal line; (b) at an angle toward the sideline to his right; or (c) at an angle toward the sideline to his left.
Ruling: Because of his original position more than 7 yards from the middle of the line of scrimmage at the snap, even though he is a tight end on the line of scrimmage, he is restricted how he may legally block below the waist. Both (a) and (b) are legal, but the left sideline is the non-adjacent sideline, making the block below the waist in (c) illegal.
This rule change makes the officials note the jersey number of the players, and their position at the snap, as to whether a block below the waist is legal toward the "adjacent" sideline or not. When in doubt, it will be flagged as illegal. I would venture to say most officials will see most blocks below the waist, especially down field blocks, as north-south in intent. Also the intent of the rule change is to decrease the number of below the waist blocks, attempting to help preserve the integrity of the player's knees.
Only the season will show how this rule plays out.
The next article in this rule change series will focus on the clock changes at the end of the first half and the end of the game. Also we will examine the changes to unsportsmanlike conduct.