An array of college football rule changes were formally recommended by the NCAA Football Rules Committee on Friday.
Among the proposed changes would be allowing a player ejected for targeting to remain on the sideline instead of being removed from the field altogether and escorted back to the locker room. Other adjustments involve speeding up the instant replay process, changing pregame on-field protocol and the numbers players would be allowed to wear.
The committee met throughout the week in Indianapolis with the goal of having these proposals approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel when it meets beginning April 16.
No major changes to targeting
In a conference call with reporters, Steve Shaw, the national coordinator of officials, said there was “a lot” of discussion around the targeting rules. In the end, only one change was recommended. Under a new proposal, players who get disqualified for targeting will be allowed to remain on the sideline instead of having to go back to the locker room.
“The player now will not have to leave the playing enclosure. The player can stay in the team area and be with the team. Other ejection fouls — such as fighting or two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties — they will still have to leave the playing enclosure,” Shaw said. “For the coaches that was a very important part and change.”
Before the 2019 season, there were some alterations made to the rule. Most notably, a play ruled targeting on the field was overturned if all of the elements of the targeting rule were not present. The option for a targeting foul to “stand” if there wasn’t enough evidence was also removed. Shaw said feedback on those changes was positive, so no other changes were implemented.
“I think the targeting rule is working where we want it, and the trend is very, very good,” Shaw said. “Preliminary information around injuries is very good. Not only are we seeing results in the data, but it’s changing player behavior.”
While Shaw was pleased with the feedback about targeting, Stanford head coach David Shaw, who serves as the chair of the rules committee, said coaches have been vocal about adding another element to the targeting foul. At recent AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) outings, coaches have heavily supported splitting the targeting rule into two categories, sort of like a flagrant foul (Flagrant 1 or Flagrant 2 for differing levels of severity) in college basketball.
David Shaw said support for that was “near-unanimous” from the coaches at AFCA. However, Shaw said the changes made last year have made it unnecessary to implement a tiered system so far.
“After really looking into the effect of the rules we put in last year and how we’re going to handle these difficult plays — making sure all of the aspects of targeting are there before we eject a player — we felt like we’ve kind of built that into our rule,” David Shaw said. “We’re always going to be conscious of the trends. Right now we think we’re trending the right way. We really feel like the way the rule is now, we’re going to get rid of the fouls that should not be fouls, so there would be no reason for Targeting 1 and Targeting 2. If it’s targeting we’re going to eject. If it’s not targeting, we won’t eject.”
Replay reviews should be less than 2 minutes
The NCAA rules committee believes replay reviews are taking far too long. As such, it recommended a “guideline” for video reviews to be completed in less than two minutes as a way to “increase the pace of play.”
“We recognize across the board that we need to get more efficient and honestly just get better at instant replay” Steve Shaw said.
Shaw said there was an average of 2.2 replays per game last season, but the concern over the length of time it generally takes to make a decision has been heard loud and clear.
“We are putting guidelines in for the instant replay officials that they need to complete their video review in less than two minutes,” Shaw said. “If you get to two minutes, it’s time to wrap it up. If you’re at two minutes and you don’t know the answer, it’s time to let it stand and not continue to drag the process out.”
Faking injuries was major point of discussion
Steve Shaw said the rules committee had a “robust” discussion about the “growing trend” of players faking injuries during games. Usually, defensive players appeared to fake injuries as a way to slow down up-tempo offenses.
Shaw said the possibility of extending the number of plays a supposedly injured player has to stay off the field (it’s just one down currently) was discussed. There was also discussion on possibly penalizing players who fake injuries. While no rules to stop the practice were ultimately recommended, Shaw said it will be a point of emphasis when communicating with head coaches. If there isn’t an improvement in 2020, action will likely be taken.
“We wanted to put this back in the coaches’ hands. We’ll work through AFCA to do that. We expect to see a huge improvement around that this coming season. If that happens, we won’t take action. If that does not happen, we will,” Shaw said.
David Shaw said getting rid of the fake injuries is a matter of “integrity” and that coaches need to hold each other accountable on the issue.
“This is one of those things [coaches] all need to look at to hold each other accountable to the integrity we’re supposed to coach with and operate with for our young people,” David Shaw said. “We’ve also talked about making an appeal to the conferences to take a look at this and say, ‘What do we want our game to look like?’ If that can be handled team-by-team and conference-by-conference to say we want to operate with integrity, hopefully we won’t have to have this discussion anymore going forward.”
Cracking down on pregame confrontations
The rules committee wants to crack down on “negative interactions” between opposing teams before games. To do so, it recommended that the game officials have jurisdiction over the game beginning 90 minutes before kickoff instead of 60 minutes. Another proposal calls for a coach to be present during players’ pregame warmups and that all players be able to be identified by number during warmups.
There were several pregame fracases last season. Most notably, cameras captured a punch thrown by Kentucky star Lynn Bowden prior to the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech.
Steve Shaw said the rules committee wants to make pregame “uneventful.”
Rules on duplicate numbers
Because there are so many players on a college football roster, it’s very common to have multiple players on a team wear the same jersey number. A recent example of that was at Michigan, where defensive lineman Rashan Gary, quarterback Wilton Speight and kicker Quinn Nordin all wore No. 3.
The rules committee wants to cap that at no more than two players wearing the same jersey number. Additionally, the rules committee recommended that No. 0 be added as a legal wearable number. Currently, players can wear Nos. 1 through 99.
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