The NCAA is implementing some major rule changes before the 2018 college football season in an effort to both speed up the game and make it safer.
The change that has gotten the most publicity is on kickoffs. The receiving team can now fair catch a kick anywhere on the field and get the ball at its own 25.
Bill Carollo, the coordinator of football officials for the Big Ten explained the change, which seemed targeted at Urban Meyer’s strategy of pinning the returner deep and against the sideline.
“Those pooch kicks that are in the side zones that we’re trying to eliminate in the game because it has proven out to our testing and reviewing that some major injuries have happened on kickoffs,” Carollo said.
That’s not the only change you’ll see in the kicking game this fall. There shouldn’t be as much dead time between touchdowns and PATs, and after kickoffs.
“What we’re looking at is trying to take out some of the dead time between plays, not to eliminate plays, but to kill some of the time in between to keep the pace of play going,” said Carollo. “So the ball, after a touchdown or after a kickoff, the play clock will be set at 40 and it will be wound. We’ll get the thing going.”
Get ready to see more penalties for illegal blocks below the waist. That’s a rule that gets tweaked almost every year. This season, the change makes it illegal for offensive players to throw low blocks down the field.
“If a player on offense is downfield at five yards or more, it is illegal to block low. So low blocks down field now are just like punts, kickoffs change of possessions; they cannot block low five yards beyond the line of scrimmage,” said Carollo.
Finally, there’s a change that’s part football officiating and part Fashion Police.
The NCAA will now enforce uniform rules much more closely. That means you can wave goodbye to the crop top, among other looks.
A player’s knees and all of his pads have to be covered by the jersey or pants, shirts have to be tucked in, and players won’t be allowed to sport the half-jersey look popularized by Joey Galloway and recently brought back into vogue by Ezekiel Elliott and J.K. Dobbins.
“If the players’ pants and uniform aren’t following the guidelines in the rule book, we’ll strictly enforce the rules. The players won’t be allowed to play if the uniforms don’t confine to the rules,” Carollo said.
One thing that won’t be changing is the targeting rule. Implemented to help protect players, but hated for what seems like arbitrary enforcement, targeting is becoming a more common call during games.
The Big Ten enforced 16 targeting penalties in 2016, and that number jumped to 25 last fall. That was thanks in large part to a new rule that allowed the replay booth to initiate a review without the on-field officials first making the call.
Carollo said that a lot of the anger over the enforcement of the rule is because fans don’t understand everything that goes into a call.
“There’s two versions of it — 9.1.3 and 9.1.4,” Carollo said. “9.1.3 is basically don’t use the top of your helmet, the crown of your helmet. And we keep refining what the definition of ‘crown’ is. But if you target, go after, take aim at an opponent and use the top of your helmet, go in and lead with that, you’re going to hurt yourself versus your opponent. So that’s one part of the rule.
“Most of the targeting calls, I think it’s nine out of ten calls, they’re not with the crown,” Carollo said. “They’re hitting the opponent above the shoulders, in the head and neck area, with force — so it’s got to be above the shoulders, with forceable contact — and it has to have an indicator. Indicator meaning that he has to thrust upward, he has to launch, he has to take aim.”
“People are a little confused on when the crown is, when he’s a defenseless player. Knowing when a defenseless player is is really important. That basically is a person, a player that cannot defend himself. If he doesn’t see it coming, you better not hit him high and into the head.”
You may not like the rule, or the way it’s called, but Carollo said it’s here to stay.
“We feel that we’re comfortable we’re at that today. Sometimes the coaches are not as comfortable as we are. But player safety is still the number one priority for us.”