DURHAM -- One of the most significant rule changes in years will take place this season in college football.
The targeting and hitting of a “defenseless” player and initiating contact with the crown of the helmet will each carry automatic ejections this season. The ejection will follow the same lines of the ejection for fighting. If the infraction takes place in the first half then the player is ejected for the game. If it takes place in the second half he is ejected for that half and the first half of the next game the team plays.
“We are really looking at player safety with these rules,” explained Doug Rhoads, coordinator of football officials for the ACC. “We will be watching closely this call for the well-fair of the players. You cannot lower your head and hit a player with the crown of your helmet anywhere. The one clear rule we give our officials is ‘When in question, it’s a foul.’ That’s the way we look at all calls and will definitely look at the “defensiveless player” and initiating contact with the crown of the helmet calls.”
The definition of a “defenseless player” has expanded as well in regards to this call. Quarterbacks will remain defenseless even after they throw an interception and possession changes hands. Kickers and punters, once they have kicked the ball, will be considered defenseless for the rest of that down.
There are actually nine defined defenseless players according to Rhoads;
1. Player in the act of passing. 2. Receiver attempting to catch a pass prior to becoming a runner. 3. Kicker in the act of kicking 4. A returner of punts or kickoffs. 5. Any player on the ground. 6. Any player out of the game and on the sidelines. 7. Any player on blind side block. 8. Ball carrier in grasp. 9. Quarterback anytime after change of possession. You can still block the quarterback on a change, but you can’t hit him above the shoulders.
The rule would allow for the ejection portion of the penalty to be reviewed through video replay. The replay official must have conclusive evidence that the penalized player didn't intentionally target a defenseless player in order to overturn the call on the field. But the 15-yard penalty is not reviewable and will stand on the field.
“We will make sure in the review booth that there is indisputable evidence that a player targeted another player with the crown of his helmet or hit a defensive less player before we eject a player from a game,” added Rhoads, now in his seventh year as the head of the ACC officials.
“It will change the way players have tackled for the past several years and will lead more to rugby-style tackles, where you wrapped the player up,” said Blue Devil defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. “You have to be aware of the rule and come in with your chest and your head up.”
There is a change in the rule concerning an illegal block below the waist or crack back block. The rule is set on the fact that you cannot go into the unrestricted area of the field, the players inside the tackle box and deliver a block below the waist. You now can come back into that area of the field and deliver a block if you are facing the player. Rhoads explained that facing a player constitutes an area in the 10 to 2 area on the face of a clock; an area where the player about to be blocked can easily see his opponent coming at him.
Here is the exact wording in the NCAA rule book on the new illegal block below the waist ruling: Consider a zone seven yards on each side of the ball extending five yards beyond the neutral zone and back to Team A’s end line.
(a) Team A players who are on the line of scrimmage completely within this zone and backs who are stationary completely within the tackle box at the snap may legally block below the waist inside this zone until the ball has left the zone.
(b) Players not covered in a (above) while the ball is still in the zone, and all players after the ball has left the zone, are allowed to block below the waist if the force of the initial contact is from the front, but they may not block below the waist if the force of the initial contact is from the side or back. “From the front” is understood to mean within the clock-face region between “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” forward of the player being blocked.
(c) Once the ball has left the zone a player may not block below the waist toward his own end line.
Rhoads said one of the first comments that he received from the coaches on this rule change came from Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe when he hoped that the Blue Devils wouldn’t receive a lot of 9:45 calls. In other words, crack back blocks just out of the legal area.
There are several other rule changes including if there is any injury in the last minute of the first half or second half the offended team gets a ten second runoff. If you have a timeout you can take that timeout to kill the ten second runoff. This rule is only in affected when the injury forces the officials to stop the clock. If the clock is already stopped then the ten second run off rule would not be in effect.
There now has to be three seconds left on the clock at the end of the first or second half in order to spike or clock the ball to stop the clock. You will not be able to stop the clock at the end of the half by the quarterback taking a quick snap and spiking the ball to the ground if the snap is made with less than three second left on the clock.
If a player’s helmet comes completely off through play, other than as the direct result of a foul by an opponent, the player must leave the game for the next down. The game clock will stop at the end of the down. The rule for this year adds that a player may remain in the game if his team is granted a charged timeout.
In the future, watch out for an eighth official to be added to the game. The NCAA this season is allowing the Big 12 to experiment with using an eighth official on the field in conference games. This official would be placed in the offensive backfield opposite the referee and would give the referee help with holding calls and a number of administrative duties, including working with the umpire on placement of the ball after each play.