ARLINGTON, Texas — Several noteworthy rule changes are in place ahead of a new season of college football.
Big 12 coordinator of officials Greg Burks shared insight into many of these changes Thursday morning to kick off the second day of Big 12 Football Media Days. Beginning this fall, the NCAA will provide more protection to quarterbacks, continue to crack down on targeting, change the penalty for defensive holding and crack down on fake slides by ball carriers.
Here’s a breakdown of these rule changes:
Passers are defenseless players
Perhaps the most significant change outlined by Burks is that passers are now considered defenseless players, a critical stipulation in determining targeting fouls.
NCAA Rule 2-27-14-a defines a defenseless player as “one who because of their physical position and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury. When in question, a player is defenseless.”
This rule was most often applied to wide receivers who were in the act of making a catch, or a quarterback in the midst of a throwing motion or shortly after releasing the ball. But now, the rule has been updated to include an additional stipulation: any offensive player in a “passing posture with focus downfield” is considered defenseless.
“The discussion was, if you’re not passing the ball, are you defenseless? Until you become a runner, you are now, by rule, considered to be a defenseless player, and will be treated as such,” Burks said.
Automatic first down for defensive holding
This is a substantial new rule that’s likely to impact the outcome of at least a couple games this fall.
Burks even acknowledged that fact during his press conference on rule changes. In the past, only defensive holding on an eligible receiver resulted in a 10-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Now, any defensive hold, no matter where or when it occurs, will result in 10 yards and a fresh set of downs for the offense.
“It seems like not a big change, but what if you have a hold on a punt, a muffed put, and it’s 4th-and-40, you have a gunner held, you could have a scenario where you could have a first down and change the outcome of the game very considerably,” Burks said. “This will be one that most people don’t look at, but I’m certain that one or two times during the season, this is gonna come into play and be of significance.”
Forward progress in the end zone
This slight rule tweak may also come to the forefront in a few key moments this season.
In the past, a receiver who caught a ball in the end zone while airborne and then was pushed back into the field of play before landing could be subjected to one of two outcomes: if the player landed on his knees, he was granted a touchdown, but if he landed on his feet, he could not be ruled down, and would have to again cross the goal line to score six points.
Now, that rule has been simplified, according to Burks.
“If you’re in the end zone, and you have possession of the football, and you’re driven out of the end zone by an opponent, it’s now a touchdown,” Burks said. “
However, there’s still a key distinction here: if an airborne receiver catches a ball in the end zone, but his own momentum carries him out of the end zone and back into the field of play before landing, he still must cross the goal line (again) to score.
(If this sounds confusing now, just wait until it happens in a fast-paced game to potentially tie the score. There’s no way it will cause any controversy!)
The “Kenny Pickett” rule
Last season in the ACC Championship game, the former Pitt quarterback scored a touchdown on a long run after faking a slide. According to Burks, that type of action is no longer permitted.
“The rules are such now with targeting that you have to pull up on a sliding quarterback,” Burks said. “This rule wasn’t in the book, technically, and it’s been added that if somebody starts or fakes a slide, the play is dead, the ball is at that spot where the backside of that player initially goes down, and we will stop the play at that point.”
The judgement of a fake slide must be made by a referee on the field. It is not a reviewable action. However, Burks noted that a fake slide can be reviewed in order to determine the spot of a dead ball after the play.
More discretion on targeting
In the event that a player is ejected for targeting in the second half of a game, teams can now appeal the ruling after the game and have the action reviewed by a committee. This is a rule that has impacted lower levels of college football, and will finally make its way to the Division I level in 2022.
But Burks doesn’t foresee many scenarios where this impacts a targeting suspension in the Big 12, because the conference already utilizes “collaborative replay.” It’s more likely, Burks said, that this rule change will come into play for smaller conference, which may not have access to collaborative replay or television broadcasts that can produce multiple different replay angles used to review targeting fouls.
In addition, the “crown” of the helmet has been more clearly defined. Tacklers who lead with the forehead of the helmet will no longer be penalized for targeting.
Additional rule changes
- In previous years, unsportsmanlike penalties were not tacked on to the end of a long pass or run like personal fouls. This year, the rule has changed: unsportsmanlike fouls will be treated like personal fouls, and will be added on to the end of any pass or run.
- Illegal blocks by a player who previously signaled for a fair catch during a kick will now be penalized 10 yards. Previously, this action resulted in a 15-yard penalty. The block is not considered a personal foul.
- The “fumble at rest” rule will now mirror the ruling for fumbles out of bounds. If a running player drops the ball at one-yard line before crossing the goal line, and the ball rolls into the end zone and no one recovers it, the ball will be marked dead at the one-yard line and spotted there.
- Players who appear to be injured must be granted full protection under NCAA rules, but sometimes, athletes will fake injures to stop the clock late in a game — and they may even be encouraged by a coach to do so. For questionable game action, institutions or conferences now have the option to consult the National Coordinator of Football Officials, who could then facilitate a video review. The coordinator could then communicate findings to a conference office to take necessary action.
- Referees have also been advised to monitor and police uniforms more closely. Specifically, pant lengths must be to or below the knee. Players cannot be penalized for an out-of-scope uniform, but can be forced to leave the field of play until equipment becomes legal. Officials will work with coaching staffs and equipment managers before games begin to try to correct outliers.