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College Football Rules Curiosities

I've been a fan of college football for a long time, but until I did a little research to write a post on the college football rules changes last month, I'd never actually looked at the official rulebook.  Turns out, there's some pretty interesting stuff in there.  Harcore fans probably know most of this stuff already, but for everyone else, I think you might find yourself surprised and intrigued.

The first thing that threw me for a loop was Rule 1-4-11:

Players, squad members and game personnel (e.g., coaches, trainers, managers and game officials) are prohibited from using tobacco products from the time the officials assume jurisdiction until the referee declares the game over.

PENALTY—Disqualification. On-the-field violations will be penalized as a dead-ball foul at the succeeding spot [S47].

What?  Really?  I mean, not using tobacco products during the game is a good idea and all, but why does it need to be a rule, with penalty enforcement and everything?  I suppose player's mouth guards would get extra-disgusting if they started dipping in the middle of games.  And just imagine if some prima donna wide receiver scored a touchdown, then pulled out a cigarette and lit up a celebratory smoke.


"Ahhhh, what a smooth touchdown..."  - Image via

Lots of the weird things I found in the rulebook are strange merely because they occur under very rare circumstances, such as Rule 2-15-5-b:

A free kick after a safety may be a punt, drop kick or place kick.

First of all, I have never, ever seen a football player perform a drop kick, which differs from a punt by Rule 2-15-3:

A drop kick is a kick by a player who drops the ball and kicks it as it touches the ground.

I really don't know why someone would drop kick the ball; is it a remnant from rugby rules?  In any case, why would you get the option to do it after a safety?  Safeties are an odd thing, but I still don't know why a regular kickoff after a safety wouldn't suffice.  A free punt just feels weird.


From Rule 2-19-2-c, an important distinction:

When in question, the ball is passed and not fumbled during an attempted forward pass.

I like this wording a lot better than the NFL's infamous 'tuck rule'; it leaves things open to referee interpretation and common sense.  Sometimes vague rules are better than specific ones.

Another tidbit about passes, from Rule 2-19-2-d:

A snap becomes a backward pass when the snapper releases the ball.

Interesting.  I never thought about a snap as a backward pass, but I guess it is.  Weird.  Then, here's another tidbit about snaps.  Rule 2-23-1-g:

The snap need not be between the snapper’s legs; but to be legal, it must be a quick and continuous backward motion.

Really?  Why would you even do that?  Snapping from the side just seems awkward to me.  I wonder if some coach has ever tried to take advantage of this rule in some sort of trick play.


Rule 7-2-2-a-2:

When on fourth down, before a change of team possession, a Team A fumble is caught in advance of the fumble by a Team A player other than the fumbler, the ball is dead and returned to the spot of the fumble. If the fumble is caught behind the spot of the fumble by a Team A player other than the Team A fumbler, the ball is dead at that spot.

Awwww, whaddya mean you can't fumble the ball forward?


I googled 'fumblerooski' and immediately found this image.  Discuss amongst yourselves.  -  Image via


Rule 7-2-3:

No offensive lineman may receive a hand-to-hand snap.

Huh, I never thought to try this, but I suppose a 'Left Guard Sneak' might be an effective play.  Too bad.


There's a litany of rules describing unsportsmanlike conduct.  Most of it is pretty obvious stuff, but I thought Rule 9-2-1-b-6 was worth noting:

Persons subject to the rules, including bands, shall not create any noise that prohibits a team from hearing its signals.

Yeah!  That means you need to shut the hell up, $C band!

More stuff you can't do -- Rule 9-2-2-a:

No player shall conceal the ball in or beneath his clothing or equipment or substitute any other article for the ball.


"I'd like to see you try and intercept this!"

Rule 9-2-2-b:

No simulated replacements or substitutions may be used to confuse opponents. No tactic associated with substitutes or the substitution process may be used to confuse opponents.

and Rule 9-2-2-c:

No equipment may be used to confuse opponents.

I don't even know what that would entail.  If Oregon's uniforms don't confuse their opponents, I don't know what would.  Perhaps replacing the football with a turkey would do it.


More unfair acts.  Rule 9-2-3:

The following are unfair acts:
a. If a team refuses to play within two minutes after ordered to do so by the referee.
b. If a team repeatedly commits fouls that can be penalized only by halving the distance to its goal line.
c. If an obviously unfair act not specifically covered by the rules occurs during the game.
PENALTY—The referee may take any action he considers equitable, including assessing a penalty, awarding a score, or suspending or forfeiting the game.

That's an awfully broad power to hand to a referee, though I'm sure he would have to justify whatever extraordinary action he took.  Personally, I've never seen this rule enforced, and I really hope I never have to.


Rule 9-3-5 probably exists for the player's safety, but I think it does prohibit some creative teamwork that might be attempted.

a. No player may position himself with his feet on the back or shoulders of a teammate before the snap.
PENALTY—Dead-ball foul. 15 yards from the succeeding spot.

b. No defensive player, in an attempt to block, bat or catch a kick, may:
1. Step, jump or stand on a teammate.
2. Place a hand(s) on a teammate to get leverage for additional height.
3. Be picked up by a teammate, or be elevated, propelled, or pushed.
PENALTY—15 yards from the previous spot.


Hey, it's legal in rugby.  What are you guys, pussies?  -  Image via


By rules 9-4-2 and 9-4-3, you can't bat the ball forward in an attempt to gain yardage.

A backward pass in flight shall not be batted forward by the passing team in an attempt to gain yardage.
PENALTY—15 yards from the basic spot.

A ball in player possession may not be batted forward by a player of that team.
PENALTY—15 yards, basic spot.

I'm surprised anyone would even try this; it seems like a disaster waiting to happen.


One of the nice parts about the rulebook is the Approved Ruling section.  Basically, they go through some of the less obvious rules, illustrating game situations and then stating how a referee should rule.

First off, I think Approved Ruling 1-4-5 is stupid, especially the second part.

I. A33 is wearing a bandanna under his helmet, with part of the bandanna protruding from underneath the back of the helmet.
RULING: Illegal. Bandannas may be worn under the helmet as long as no part of the bandanna is visible when the helmet is in place. The visible bandanna is considered a uniform attachment.

II. During a charged Team B timeout, B33 removes his helmet while on the field of play and is wearing a bandanna.
RULING: Team B is charged with an additional timeout. If its timeouts are exhausted, Team B will be penalized five yards at the succeeding spot.

This is why we get eye black with a player's home area code printed on it -- because it's the only mode of personal expression permitted to players.


Approved Ruling 2-15-4:

On a free kick to start a game, the kicker uses the toe of a teammate for a tee or builds a tee with a mound of dirt or sod.
RULING: Illegal kick. Dead-ball foul. Penalty—Five yards from the succeeding spot.

This just seems odd.  Don't the kickers get a regular tee for this sort of thing?  Moreover, what would be the rationale for prohibiting something like this?


Approved Ruling 7-3-6-II seems like football's version of 'tie goes to the runner':

Two opposing players receive a legal forward pass while both are off the ground, and both players return to the ground inbounds at the same time.
RULING: Simultaneous catch; the ball is awarded to the passing team.

Admittedly, I wrote this post about a month ago, before the season started.  By now, I'm sure most Cal fans are familiar with this rule, via this play vs. Michigan State:


Here's an interesting quirk, via Approved Ruling 9-1-4-I.  Call it the 'Charlie Brown Rule'.

A1 plans to punt from behind his line of scrimmage but misses the ball, after which he is contacted by B1.
RULING: Team A fumble. There is no kicker until the ball is actually kicked, and B1 therefore is not guilty of roughing the kicker.


If the kicker misses the ball, feel free to add injury to insult by tackling the crap out of him.  -  Image via


Approved Ruling 9-2-2 concerns unfair tactics.  It's full of interesting and creative ways to screw with substitutes and the like to mess with the other team.  I never would have thought to do most of these things, but evidently someone did, because they're officially against the rules.  One of my favorites:

While a team is legally set to attempt a field goal, the potential holder for the kick goes toward his team area asking for a shoe. A shoe is thrown on the field and the player, in motion toward his team area, turns toward the goal line. The ball is snapped to the player in the kicking position, who throws a pass to the player who had turned upfield after asking for a shoe.
RULING: Penalty—15 yards from the previous spot.

That's freaking brilliant!  Too bad someone else thought of it first, and now it's illegal.


Finally, football's version of goaltending.  Via Approved Ruling 9-4-1:

I. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes out of bounds in the end zone.
RULING: Foul, safety.
II. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes into the end zone and is recovered by Team A.
RULING: Foul, touchdown.
III. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes into the end zone and is recovered by Team B.
RULING: Foul, safety.
IV. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes into the field of play.
RULING: Foul, safety. The ball remains alive, and Team A may elect the result of the play. If Team A recovers, does not score and accepts the penalty, enforcement is at the previous spot.

OK, that's all well and good, but what happens if, instead of batting the ball, the defensive player catches it?

VII. Team A attempts a field goal, and B23, in the end zone, goes above the crossbar and catches the ball.
RULING: Legal play.

Does that seem rather inconsistent to anyone else?  So, go ahead and try it, but it's a penalty if you don't actually catch the ball.