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New Rules For College Football, 2008

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New Rule : Every post shall begin with an oblique pop-culture reference. - Image via images.salon.com

For whatever reason, college football just can't seem to get it right.  It's not bad enough that the NCAA's official rules booklet (warning - large PDF!) is 266 pages long; no, every year, a committee meets to decide on new rules and tweaks to some old rules.  A lot of times, they end up repealing rules that they put in just the year before!

It's not as though the rules committee isn't trying hard, though.  They've got good intentions.  Some of these rules changes are intended to make the game safer, or restore competitive balance.  Noble goals, to be sure.  Other rules are intended to shorten the game.  I'm ambivalent about that one, especially because the committee is unwilling to do the one simple change that would really shorten the games -- eliminate the TV timeout.

In any case, we've got new rules for 2008, and as an informed fan, you should be up on the changes.  Otherwise, you might find yourself screaming at the ref to call a penalty on something that isn't a foul anymore.  Oy, what a faux pas!

Here's what's changed:

Rule 1-4-9-g : Recording opponent’s signals prohibited

Any attempt to record, either through audio or video means, any signals given by an opposing player, coach or other team personnel is prohibited.

Call it the Bill Belichick rule.  No penalty is prescribed in the rulebook, so I'm not sure what would happen if someone were caught.  You can't take away a college team's first-round draft pick, can you?

Rules 2-2-4 and 3-2-4 : 40/25-second play clock system instituted

A dead ball is ready for play when:
a. With the 40-second play clock running, an official places the ball at an inbounds mark or between the inbounds marks and steps away to his position.
b.  With the play clock set at 25 seconds, the referee sounds his whistle and either signals to start the game clock or signals that the ball is ready for play.

40-Second Clock.
1. When an official signals that the ball is dead, the play clock shall begin a 40-second count.
2. If the 40-second count is interrupted for reasons beyond the control of the officials or the play-clock operator (e.g., clock malfunction), the referee shall stop the game clock and signal (both palms open in an over-the-head pumping motion) that the play clock should be re-set at 40 seconds and started immediately.
3. In the event that the 40-second clock is running and the ball is not ready to be snapped after 20 seconds into the count, the referee shall declare a timeout and signal that the play clock be set at 25 seconds. When play is to be resumed, the referee will give the ready-for-play signal and the play clock shall begin the 25-second count. The game clock will start on the snap unless it had been running when the referee declared a timeout; in that case, it will start on the referee’s signal (Rule 3-2-5-b).

25-Second Clock. If the officials signal the game clock to be stopped for any of the following reasons, the referee shall signal (one open palm in an over-the-head pumping motion) that the clock should be set at 25 seconds:
1. Penalty administration.
2. Charged team timeout.
3. Media timeout.
4. Injury timeout.
5. Measurement.
6. Change of possession.
7. After a kick down.
8. Score.
9. Start of each period.
10. Start of a team’s series in an extra period.
11. Instant replay review.
12. Other administrative stoppage.
When play is to be resumed, the referee will give the ready-for-play signal and the play clock will begin the 25-second count.

Anyone else confused?  To the extent that this rule might speed up the game, I'm doubtful that the savings are worth the clock confusion that this rule will probably cause.  Maybe everyone figures it out and everything works out just fine, but I'm skeptical.

Anyway, here's the Cliff's Notes version:  after a play ends, the play clock is set to 40 seconds and begins running.  The center may snap the ball anytime after the referee sets the ball, but if the clock gets below 20 seconds before the ref can set the ball, he calls a timeout and resets the play clock to 25.  In that case, the game clock begins again when the ball is snapped, just like after an incomplete pass.

Oh, and if any of the 12 conditions above apply, the play clock starts at 25 seconds instead, with the game clock stopped.  Easy, right?

Rule 2-3-3 : Chop block redefined

A chop block is a high-low or low-high combination block by any two players against an opponent (not the runner) anywhere on the field, with or without a delay between contacts; the "low" component is at the opponent’s thigh or below.

This rule is much simpler than before, as three paragraphs that said almost the same thing have been condensed into one.  Chop blocks can occur anywhere on the field.  Also, low-low combinations of blocks are no-longer considered 'chop' blocks, which seems OK to me, because in those situations, the blocked player was not at risk of being 'chopped' in half.

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Nope, still dangerous, still illegal. - Image via www.gocollegiate.com

Rule 3-2-2 : Clock rules eliminated

Following television timeouts, the ready for play period will, with the teams on the field, be 15 seconds. Exception: Free kicks.

If an inadvertent whistle occurs on a play and the down is replayed under the provisions of Rule 4-1-2-b, then the time and status of the game clock and play clock shall be reset to their position prior to the play in which the inadvertent whistle occurs. If necessary, instant replay can be consulted to determine the exact time and status of the game clock and the play clock."

A couple of rules inserted last year have now been removed.  I don't think you'll miss them.

Rule 3-2-5-a-12 : Game clock starts when ball is ready for play after ball carrier goes out of bounds

When the clock has been stopped for any of the following incidents, it will start on the signal by the referee:
1. When Team A is awarded a first down either by penalty or as the result of the play (Exception: After a legal kick down).
...
8. For an illegal pass to conserve time.
9. For a measurement.
10. For a live ball in an official’s possession.
11. For a fumble out of bounds in advance of the spot of the fumble anytime during the game (Rule 3-2-5-a).
12. When a ball carrier, a fumble or a backward pass goes out of bounds (Exception: Within the last two minutes of each half, the clock starts on the snap unless incidents 8 or 11 above occur.)

Well, this should speed things up some.  Going out-of-bounds no longer stops the clock completely, only until the ball is ready to be snapped again.  Oh, except when there are less than two minutes left in the half.  I can definitely see why you wouldn't want this rule in place at the end of a half (it would kill a lot of dramatic comeback drives), but I have to question the wisdom of a rule that needs an exception made for the last two minutes of the game.

Rule 6-2-1 : Kickoff out of bounds: option to snap at 40-yard line

A free kick out of bounds between the goal lines untouched by an inbounds player of Team B is a foul.
PENALTY—Live-ball foul. Five yards from the previous spot; or five yards from the spot where the subsequent dead ball belongs to Team B; or the receiving team may put the ball in play 30 yards beyond Team A’s restraining line at the inbounds spot.

As written, this rule actually reverts back to its 2006 form.  When the committee moved kickoffs back to the 30 last year, they decided to leave the 35-yard line as the penalty spot for out-of-bounds kickoffs.  This rule change moves the penalty spot up to the 40 yard line -- definitely good field position.

Also note that the rule, as written, puts the ball 30 yards beyond where it was kicked off of from, so if the kickoff is pushed back due to penalties (or a safety -- kicks following one start from the 20), the other team will get the ball even further up the field.

Rule 9-1-2-p : Horse-collar tackle prohibited

All players are prohibited from grabbing the inside back collar of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling the runner down. This does not apply to a runner who is inside the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.

Good, I say.  This eliminates a dangerous play, and should help with overall safety.  Note that this is a foul only if the player is actually tackled; grabbing the inside collar is still legal if the player is not tackled with it.

Rule 9-1-2-q : Five-yard facemask foul eliminated

No player shall twist, turn or pull the face mask or any helmet opening of an opponent. It is not a foul if the face mask or helmet opening is not twisted, turned or pulled. When in question, it is a foul.

In the same spirit as the previous rule, the incidental facemask penalty has been eliminated.  Another welcome change, it recognizes that incidental contact is not in itself dangerous, and therefore should not be penalized.

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Who's fouling whom?  Possibly no one. - Image via cache.daylife.com

Rule 9-1-3 : Helmet contact/targeting an opponent rule redefined

Initiating Contact/Targeting an Opponent
a. No player shall initiate contact and target an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.
b.  No player shall initiate contact and target a defenseless opponent above the shoulders. When in question, it is a foul.
Flagrant offenders shall be disqualified.

Basically a simplification/clarification of what is already obviously a foul:  don't lead with your helmet, and don't target other players' heads.  When serious injuries occur, everybody loses.

Rule 9-1-6 : Sideline warning changed to sideline interference foul

While the ball is in play, coaches, substitutes and authorized attendants in the team area may not be between the sideline and coaching line or on the field of play.
PENALTY—Administer as a dead-ball foul.
First and second infractions: Delay of game for sideline interference, five yards from the succeeding spot.
Third and subsequent infractions:  Unsportsmanlike conduct for sideline interference, 15 yards from the succeeding spot.

Previously, coaches got the first two sideline warnings free.  Not anymore!  Really, you don't see this sort of thing too often, and hopefully it will stay that way.  It's a pretty stupid way to lose yardage, really (but aren't they all?).

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Stay on the sideline and shut up, Pete. - Image via msnbcmedia.msn.com

Rule 12-3-1-a : Field goals included in reviewable scoring plays

Reviewable plays governed by a side line, goal line or an end line include:
a. Scoring plays, including a runner in possession of a live ball breaking the plane of a goal line. This includes field goal attempts only if the ball is ruled (a) below or above the crossbar, or (b) inside or outside the uprights when it is lower than the top of the uprights. If the ball is higher than the top of the uprights, the play may not be reviewed.

I think this is an overdue change.  If we can review whether a ball broke the imaginary plane defined by the goal line, I think we can review which side of the uprights a field goal was on.  Note, however, that it cannot be reviewed if the field goal is higher than the top of the uprights, which means that the missed field goal at Oregon last year still couldn't have been reviewed.

Rule 12-3-3-b and -c : More reviewable calls added

Miscellaneous reviewable plays include:
b.  A ball carrier judged to have been down by rule when the recovery of a fumble by an opponent or teammate occurs in the immediate action following the fumble and is prior to any official signaling that the ball is dead.
c. A ball carrier judged to have been out of bounds when his immediate action takes him into the opponent’s end zone and is prior to any official signaling that the ball is dead.

Hey, if it's an important call and we've got video evidence, I say review it.  Let's get it right!

Rule 12-3-4 : Replay official may correct egregious errors

No other plays or officiating decisions are reviewable. However, the replay official may correct egregious errors. This excludes fouls that are not specifically reviewable.

Another welcome change.  If the refs screwed something up badly and the replay official notices it, he should be able to correct it.  There's not reason not to do this.

Rule 12-5-1-b-1 : Successful coach’s challenge extended to maximum of two per game

If a head coach’s challenge is successful, he retains the challenge, which he may use only once more during the game. Thus, a coach may have a total of two challenges if and only if his initial challenge is successful.

This is kind of a weird one, and I can see it being changed in the future.  I think it was added so that coaches could feel free to challenge a call early in the game and not get stuck not having a challenge for late-game situations.  Such coaches better be pretty sure they're right; losing both challenges at once is a pretty big deterrent against throwing the challenge flag with little regard.  It feels like the compromise that it obviously is, and I guess we'll have to see how it works out.

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Better think twice before throwing one of these. - Image via cache.daylife.com

Anyway, these are the new rules for college football.  Pretty minor stuff, but for the most part I think they're changes for the better.  Check back in November to see if I've eaten my words.