Cougar football: NCAA rules changes for 2016

EACH YEAR THE NCAA institutes new rules, modifies existing ones and occasionally has even been known to eliminate rules.

There are a number of college football rule book modifications put in place for this coming season. This exercise is done with the intent to enhance the game while making it safer for players to participate.

Mike Leach has maintained a “special” relationship with the NCAA rules committee. When it comes to changes, well, Leach has been very clear over the years on how his coaching staff and team will deal with new regulations.

“I really don’t know what all the rule changes are for this year, but I’ll figure ‘em out by halftime of the first game.”

Some might consider Leach’s attitude toward the NCAA to be somewhat flippant. Considering there are more than a dozen rule changes for teams to incorporate and implement, it’s pretty easy to understand where the WSU head man is coming from.

In the spirit of giving fans a heads up on why one of the referees threw their yellow flag to indicate a penalty occurred on a play, CF.C wants to share changes made by the rules committee.

Here’s an overview of major changes pointed out by Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of College Football Officiating.

Blocking Below the Waist

Offensive players who are outside the tackle box at the snap, and those who leave the tackle box after the snap, may only block an opponent below the waist if the force of the initial contact is directly at the opponent's front. However, they may not block an opponent below the waist in a direction toward the original position of the ball unless the ball carrier has clearly crossed the line of scrimmage.

Input From a Medical Observer

In 2015, the rules committee approved an experimental rule that allows the Instant Replay official to interrupt a game at the request of a medical observer. This was to take care of the situation where the medical observer saw that a player had been injured on the field, but neither the officials nor the sideline personnel noticed this and therefore had not stopped the game. The committee received indications from a number of institutions that showed that this was a very successful experiment in 2015. So, for 2016 the committee has approved this as a permanent rule change.

Low Hits on the Passer

This rule that protects the passer is clarified that the tackler may not legally make forcible contact against the passer at the knee or below, even if he is making a wrap-up tackle.

Scrimmage Kick Formation

Punts and field goal attempts are classified as scrimmage kicks, because they are made as part of a play from scrimmage. The rules for scrimmage plays require the offense to have at least five linemen wearing jerseys numbered between 50 and 79. However, if a team is in a scrimmage kick formation, they may replace some of those players by linemen wearing numbers outside the 50-79 range; these typically are "speed players," backs who are faster than the larger linemen and can get downfield faster to cover the kick.   

Because some teams were beginning to "game" the rules by running or passing the ball from this formation, the rules committee felt that it needed to tighten the requirements. Under the new rules, a scrimmage kick formation must have a player at least 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage (the likely punter) OR a potential kicker and potential holder at least seven yards deep. Another important part of the rule is that "it must be obvious that a kick will be attempted."

Sliding Ball Carrier: Defenseless Player

There are several situations where a player is considered "defenseless" for purposes of the targeting rule. Examples include a pass receiver who is concentrating on catching the ball and a kick-return man awaiting a punt. This year the committee added the ball carrier who has "obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first."

Starting the Clock Near the End of a Half

The rules give the referee broad authority in stopping and starting the game clock or the play clock if he feels that a team is manipulating the clock to gain an advantage. Near the end of a half, the clock rules become increasingly important.   

Under most circumstances, if the game clock is stopped because of a penalty, it starts when the referee gives the "ready-for-play" signal after completing the penalty. This year, the rules committee passed a rule that takes effect inside two minutes in the half. This new rule requires that the clock be started on the snap if the team ahead in the score commits a foul. Under the current rule, the clock would be started on the ready-for-play signal, allowing the fouling team the chance to gain a time advantage by running perhaps 20 or more seconds off the game clock. The new rule prevents this.

Targeting: An Expanded Role for Instant Replay

By rule, every targeting foul is reviewed by the instant replay official. Up to this point, the replay official's role has been to verify whether the forcible contact was with the crown of the helmet or was struck at the head or neck area of a defenseless player. Now as part of the review, the replay official is directed to examine all elements of the ruling made by the official on the field, not only the location of the forcible contact. In addition, the replay official is empowered to "create" a foul if he sees an obvious and egregious targeting action that the officials on the field miss. Because the action is so dangerous and the ejection penalty so severe, the committee has made these changes to increase the probability that targeting fouls are correctly ruled and administered.

Tripping the Ball Carrier

For a number of years it has been illegal for a player to stick out his foot or leg to trip an opponent, but it was legal to do this to the ball carrier. Because of leg injuries to runners over the past couple years, the committee now has made it illegal to trip any opponent, including the ball carrier.

TV Access Inside the Limit Lines

Television partners may briefly bring hand-held cameras inside the limit lines during certain dead-ball periods. Given how Leach doesn’t seem to enjoy television interviews at halftime and after a game has ended,  likely he isn’t enamored with this rule designed to enhance live coverage.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct by a Coach

For many years, NCAA football has had a rule wherein a player who commits two fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct is disqualified for the remainder of the game after the second foul. Interestingly enough, no such rule exists in college football for behavior by coaches. Football is the only NCAA sport that does not have such a rule. For example, in basketball when a coach receives two technical fouls, the second foul disqualifies him for the rest of the game.

The rules committee believes that as teachers and adult leaders of young athletes playing football, coaches should be held to a high standard of behavior appropriate to such a responsible position. Thus, starting in 2016, the rule will be that a coach who commits two fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct will be disqualified from the game. He must leave the playing field before the ball is next put into play, and he must remain out of view of the playing field for the remainder of the game.

Experimental Rule:  Collaboration in Instant Replay

In addition to these changes in the rules, the committee has approved an experimental rule for the 2016 season. This experiment will allow what is being referred to as a "collaborative approach" to the use of instant replay. This means that the replay official will be in communication with observers who are watching the game on television at a site other than the instant replay booth. The replay official will be in consultation with the remote observers while reviewing a play. The purpose is to allow for a second observer in addition to this replay official to assist in making the decisions about a review. As a part of the experimental rule process, conferences that use this approach will report back to the rules committee at next year's meetings with the results of this experiment.

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