College Football Rule Changes and You: 2011 Edition

We last did this two years ago. With the publication of the 2009 rules, the NCAA moved to a 2-year cycle, so the next rulebook will not be issued until 2013. Therefore, this year’s edition includes some of the most substantive changes since 2008, when the NCAA went to NFL-style timing rules.

As with past editions, the rule number and page number will be given. There are numerous small, mostly editorial changes to the rules, so we will only cover rules listed as “major changes” by the NCAA from the listing on page 6.

  • Rule 1-4-6-b (page 24): Gloves can now be any color.
  • Rule 1-4-11-Exc. (page 25): Monitors are now allowed in coaches’ booths, as long as they only show the live telecast or webcast of the game.
  • Rule 3-4-4 (page 52): This rule is an overreaction to the events at the end of last year’s Music City Bowl. I don’t particularly care for it, and I think it is excessive. Anyway, this is the “Derek Dooley Rule”:

    ARTICLE 4. a. With the game clock running and less than one minute remaining in either half, if a player of either team commits a foul that causes the clock to stop, the officials may subtract 10 seconds from the game clock at the option of the offended team. The fouls that fall in this category include but are not limited to:
    1. Any foul that prevents the snap (e.g., false start, encroachment, defensive offside by contact in the neutral zone, etc.);
    2. Intentional grounding to stop the clock;
    3. Incomplete illegal forward pass;
    4. Backward pass thrown out of bounds to stop the clock;
    5. Any other foul committed with the intent of stopping the clock.

    The offended team may accept the yardage penalty and decline the 10-second subtraction. If the yardage penalty is declined the 10-second subtraction is declined by rule.
    b. The 10-second rule does not apply if the game clock is not running when the foul occurs or if the foul does not cause the game lock to stop (e.g., illegal formation).
    c. After the penalty is administered, if there is a 10-second subtraction, the game clock starts on the referee’s signal. If there is no 10-second subtraction, the game clock starts on the snap. d. If the fouling team has a timeout remaining they may avoid the 10-second subtraction by using a timeout. In this case the game clock starts on the snap after the timeout.

    Remember, it is already illegal to commit fouls to purposely stop the clock (see Rule 3-4-3), usually resulting in the clock starting on the ready for play (i.e., when the ball is set). I think this rule is excessively punitive, as 10 seconds is a lot of time in end-of-half situations, and especially since it is not obvious (to me) that the confusion at the end of the Music City Bowl was designed to stop the clock. I think this may get revisited in 2013. At a minimum, it should be no more than 5 seconds. At best, it would be scrapped entirely.

  • Rule 3-5-3 (page 54): Clarification that if the offensive team breaks the huddle with more than 11 players or has more than 11 on the field or in the huddle for more than three seconds, or if the defensive team lingers too long with too many players, that play should be stopped immediately and the penalty called.
  • Rule 6-1-10 (page 63): This rule actually took effect last year. It outlaws the “wedge” formation, defining a wedge as “two or more players aligned shoulder to shoulder within 2 yards of each other”, and further clarifies that it is illegal to form a wedge on kickoffs for the “purpose of blocking for the ball carrier”. This is a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Note that this is not called if there a touchback or if “the kick is from an obvious onside kick formation”.
  • Rule 6-3-14 (page 66): This is a new rule that clarifies on place kicks, it is illegal for three defensive players inside the blocking zone to block one offensive player.
  • Rule 7-1-3-b-2 (Deleted): Rule 7-1 was extensively rewritten. The former rule 7-1-3-b-2 does not appear in the new text, however, making “locking” legs with the snapper illegal. The written 7-1 also clarifies the offense must be still for 1 second before a snap, or else it is a false start.
  • Rule 7-3-2 (page 73): This changes intentional grounding rule in the book to the way it is usually called by eliminating the requirement that the eligible receiver in the area has a “reasonable opportunity to catch the pass”. I would really like to see a definition of “an area” though.
  • Rule 9-1-4 (page 84): Clarification that contact to the head or neck of a defenseless player with the “helmet, forearm, elbow, or shoulder” is a foul.
  • Rule 9-1-6 (page 84): The entire section on blocking below the waist has been rewritten. To give an idea of the extent of the changes, the rule originally read “Blocking below the waist is permitted except as follows” and then listed conditions in which is it was not legal to block below the waist. It now reads that “There shall be no blocking below the waist” and then lists exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are:
    1. Against the runner.
    2. Players on the offensive team on the line of scrimmage who are within seven yards of the player in the middle of the line (i.e., in the tackle box), in the backfield outside the tackle box, or in motion may block below the waist along the long axis of the field (i.e., only forward or backward) or toward the sideline they are adjacent to the snap (i.e., it is legal to block below the waist toward the nearest sideline, this is usually is only applicable to receivers on the edge of the formation, preventing them from blocking a player below the waist from behind by coming back toward the middle of the field, sometimes known as a “crackback block”).
    3. Offensive players inside the tackle box, either on the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.
    4. Defensive players in the blocking zone except against offensive players waiting to receive a backward pass. (The blocking zone is distinct from the tackle box, in that is is defined as 5 yards in either direction from the middle lineman in an offensive formation and 3 yards forward or back. It also ceases to exist when the ball leaves the zone.)
    Basically, this is a continued effort by the rules committee to clarify blocking below the waist. As far as I can tell comparing the old rule and the new, there are no substantive differences in the actual a
  • Rule 9-1-7-c (page 85): It is illegal for a player clearly out-of-bounds to block an opponent who is also out-of-bounds.
  • Rule 9-2-1 (page 87): The most famous rule change of the offseason, most likely. Essentially, this change makes unsportsmanlike conduct fouls that occur while the ball in in play enforceable as live-ball fouls. Whereas before all such fouls be administered after the result of the play, this means these fouls can now be enforced from the spot where the occur or from the previous line of scrimmage. The infamous part is where this is brandied about as “taking touchdowns off the board” since now a player highstepping into the end zone before getting there will be penalized 15 yards from the spot and the touchdown will not count. This almost happened at the end of the Utah-USC game last weekend, except that the unsportsmanlike conduct was on the USC bench (since they ran onto the field while the ball was in play after a blocked FG) and is therefore still supposed to be administered from the succeeding spot (in other words, the touchdown still counts).
    The vast majority of unsportsmanlike conduct flags for excessive celebration I’ve ever seen occur after the touchdown has been scored. Therefore, I think the impact of this rule has been vastly overstated and is probably somewhat unlikely to ever be called except in egregious cases. We shall see, though.
  • Rule  9-4 (page 93): Batting balls and illegal kicks are now 10 yard penalties instead of 15 yards.
  • Page 12-3-5 (page 103): This rule actually took effect last year. This allows officials, in some circumstances, to use instant replay to determine if the clock stopped inappropriately at the end of the half. This is the “Texas Rule”: instant replay was used to put 1 second back on the clock at the end of the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game, allowing Texas the chance to kick the game winning field goal. 

And that’s about it. I highly recommend downloading the rule book (linked back in the first paragraph). It’s a handy reference and who knows, you might learn something.