For an organization that can't take one step forward without tripping over its own shoelaces, Wednesday was another perfectly acceptable day at the office. The NCAA's Football Rules Committee met in Indianapolis over the past two days, and has recommended two rules changes that could change the way games are officiated and coached beginning this fall.
Let's start with the good news.
The rules committee has recommended reversing without a doubt the worst rules alteration since its clock adjustments in 2006 (which, by the way, also lasted only one season). In 2013, when a targeting penalty was overruled by video review, the 15-yard penalty attached to the foul remained even when the flag was picked up and the defender in question got to remain in the game. It made absolutely no sense at all and, to their credit, the committee recognized that. To be clear, there will still be plenty of 15-yard flags even when a targeting foul is overturned. For instance, a linebacker flagged for targeting on a supposed above-the-neck shot that has his ejection overturned could still be flagged for unnecessary roughness. That part will have to be explained to players and fans alike.
Now, to the controversial part.
The rules committee has recommended giving the defense a 10-second substitution period after every snap, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half. Defensive coaches - led by Nick Saban and Bret Bielema, chiefly - lobbied hard over the summer and fall that hurry-up tempo offenses had an unfair advantage on defenses to the point where the game became unsafe for defenders. Whether or not you agree depends on what side of the ball you fall, but the committee agrees with them. Should the rule pass, offenses will be assessed a five-yard penalty for snapping the ball before the play clock hit 29 seconds.
"The committee discussed the issue thoroughly before coming to the conclusion that defensive teams should be allowed some period of time to substitute," Greg Johnson wrote in the NCAA's explanation. "The committee believes that 10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock. This rules proposal also aligns with a request from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that sport rules committees review substitution rules in regards to player safety."
Offensive coaches will fight this and do their best to kill the rule like a filibustering senator trying to kill a bill. Their lobby is bigger than their defensive counterparts. They'll have help from their friends in the national media.
But the committee has made its recommendation. The rule is on the table. For once, defense appears to be one step ahead of offense.
Here's the official NCAA statement:
By Greg Johnson
The NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed an alteration involving the instant-replay review on targeting fouls during its Feb. 11-12 meeting in Indianapolis, which includes the ejection of the player committing the foul along with a 15-yard penalty.
Last season, the targeting rule was implemented and any player committing the penalty would be ejected and his team assessed a 15-yard penalty.
The committee recommended that if the instant replay official rules that a disqualification should not have occurred, and if the targeting foul is not accompanied by another personal foul, the 15-yard penalty for targeting should not be enforced.
However, if the targeting foul is committed in conjunction with another personal foul, the 15-yard penalty for that personal foul remains. For example, if a player is called for roughing the passer and targeting the head and neck area, but the instant replay official rules that targeting did not occur, the player flagged would remain in the game, but the roughing the passer penalty would still be enforced.
All rules proposals must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which will discuss the football rules changes March 6. The proposed changes are being circulated for membership comment.
“Overall, the targeting rule was successful and has had the intended impact of making play safer,” said Troy Calhoun, head coach at the Air Force Academy and chair of the committee, which met Monday through Thursday in Indianapolis. “This alteration keeps the intent of the rule, but allows replay to correct all of the consequences from a rare missed call.”
In games where instant replay is not in use, the committee recommended an option to permit on-field officials to review targeting calls during halftime that were made during the first half. This is a permissive rule by conference policy or mutual consent of the teams and is the responsibility of the home team to provide the parameters for the use of video. The review must be conducted by the referee in the officials’ locker room.
Officials could then reverse the targeting call and allow the player to compete in the second half. The committee noted that many Football Championship Subdivision, Division II and Division III games are not played using instant replay so this modification gives those teams greater flexibility to review targeting fouls during a game.
The committee also recommended a rules change that will allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half, starting with the 2014 season.
“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Calhoun. “As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”
Under this rule proposal, the offense will not be allowed to snap the ball until the play clock reaches 29 seconds or less. If the offense snaps the ball before the play clock reaches 29 seconds, a 5-yard, delay-of-game penalty will be assessed. Under current rules, defensive players are not guaranteed an opportunity to substitute unless the offense substitutes first. This part of the rule will remain in place in scenarios where the play clock starts at 25 seconds.
The committee discussed the issue thoroughly before coming to the conclusion that defensive teams should be allowed some period of time to substitute. The committee believes that 10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock. This rules proposal also aligns with a request from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that sport rules committees review substitution rules in regards to player safety.
In the NCAA’s non-rules change years, proposals can only be made for student-athlete safety reasons or modifications that enhance the intent of a previous rules change.