New rules fans need to be aware of in 2016
The NCAA rules committee was busy this offseason, as always, adding rules with two general purposes in mind:
- To advance safety (if you think there’s been a “wussyfication” of football, you’ll hate a lot of these rules).
- To clarify old rules and prevent loopholes.
No, there’s nothing earth-shattering, but before you throw something at the TV this season, complaining that the official doesn’t know the rules, know these rule changes:
Blocking below the waist
The below-the-waist rule gets a little more complex this year. Players who start the play outside the tackle box and those who leave the tackle box can only block players below the waist from directly in front of the player they are blocking. They can’t block a player toward the original position of the ball unless the ball-carrier has crossed the line of scrimmage already.
The takeaway: Players can’t come in from the perimeter and cut down players in the tackle box anymore. That’s a dangerous action that leads to injury. If you’re prone to complaining about how it’s turning into touch football, you’ll complain about this. If you are tired of ACL injuries, you’ll support this.
Medical examiner input
A medical observer will be watching for player injuries that neither the officials nor sideline personnel noticed. If this official sees an injury, he can request the game be stopped through the replay official to deal with the injury.
The takeaway: This was an experiment last year that has become a permanent rule.
Hitting the passer below the knee
A defender can no longer hit a passer below the knee or it’s roughing the passer. Even if it’s a form tackle, it’s a violation.
The takeaway: If you’re prone to complain about “touch football,” you’re going to hate this one. If you like seeing your favorite quarterback have a long, fruitful, injury-free career, this will help.
Suspended games given outcome protocol
If a game is suspended and can’t continue, in the past there was no protocol to determine the game’s outcome, creating potential disputes. Now, a protocol has been set. There are four options: to resume the game later, to declare it a completed game, a forfeit or a no-contest. Generally, the outcomes were either decided by mutual agreement of the athletic directors or by conference rules (in conference games). But there was no protocol for non-conference games where the ADs could not agree on an outcome. Under the new rule, the home team’s conference protocol will take precedent if there is no agreement in a non-conference game.
The takeaway: This provides clarity in the unlikely event that a non-conference game is suspended.
Special teams formations should include specialists
Rules have allowed players wearing non-lineman numbers to play interior line positions on special teams plays, meaning punt teams could get “speed” players on the field who could get down the field faster in coverage. However, some teams would game that rule by using these players on plays where there was no intention to have a scrimmage kick. Under the new rule, to have non-lineman numbers in the interior five, teams have to have either a player lined up more than 10 yards behind the line (presumably a punter) or a holder and kicker lined up at least seven yards behind the line.
The takeaway: Just another attempt to keep teams from gaming the rules.
Sliding players are defenseless
If a player slides, he becomes defenseless and subject to protections under the targeting rule.
The takeaway: Sliding players join players concentrating on making a catch and players who are concentrating on catching a kick as players protected by the targeting rule.
Until this year, all that replay officials were allowed to review in a targeting penalty was whether there was forcible contact on the head or neck area of a defenseless player. Under the new rule, officials can review all aspects of the penalty, including calling a targeting penalty where none was called on the field.
The takeaway: If you are prone to complaining about flag football, you will really, really, really hate this one. Now, a play with no flag can end up with a flag after replay. On the other hand, the game may become a tad bit more safe.
Don’t trip the ball-carrier
In the past, the tripping rule applied to pretty much anybody but the guy with the ball. Not now. You can’t tackle a ball-carrier by sticking out your leg and tripping him.
The takeaway: Tripping is an injury hazard, and if you are going to protect every other player from it, why not the player with the ball?
Preventing gaming of the clock
At the end of halves, it was not uncommon for teams in the lead to game the clock by committing penalties. This would result in the clock starting at the “ready to play” signal from the official, draining time from the team trying to rally from behind. Now, if the team in the lead commits a penalty in the last two minutes, the clock will not start until the next snap.
The takeaway: It makes it harder to manipulate the clock in game-end situations.
Unsportsmanlike conduct by coaches
A second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a coach now leads to an automatic ejection, much like it does in basketball and for football players.
The takeaway: Why wasn’t this the case all along?
Experiment: Collaboration in the replay booth
The replay official will collaborate with off-site officials who will watch on TV and give input to the replay official, especially on calls subjective in nature (like targeting).
The takeaway: The ACC and SEC will be doing this in 2016, and the key question that will need to be answered is will it further stall games. Replays already slow things down, so will adding another layer to the review process make it too cumbersome?