The State of College Football “Rules”

November 26, 2019

There have been many commentators, as well as fans, who have railed endlessly about the quality of the officiating this college football season. We have seen numerous examples of questionable, blown, or missed calls from all over the country.

Here in the famed secret underground complex of the LLC, Inc our crack research staff has come to the same conclusion and reached a decisive conclusion. It’s bad this year. Real bad. Let us examine this topic, in depth and ad nauseum.

To start this exhaustive research project, we started at none other than the National Collegiate Athletic ASSociation’s webpage which contains the “2019 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations” (http://www.ncaapublications.)
But, the most important thing about these Rules and Interpretations is that over the last few years, with the advent of trying to legislate “safety” into the game, it has inevitably grown in size and detail. The rules have changed and, so, the rule book has to expand to accommodate that change. You not only have to describe the offending action, you also have to detail the exceptions to the rule, the acceptable actions of the offensive and defensive players, and spell out the resultant penalties used to address the offending action.
One of the biggest rules changes in the history of football was the relaxation of the rules regarding how offensive linemen could block. Years ago, guards, tackles, and centers could not extend their arms to block. They had to keep them close to their chests with their fists clenched in order not to hold. Today, the rule is different.

According to the rules a player can use his shoulders, hands, outer surface of his arms. It also says the hands can be open but that the palms should be facing the opponent. Also, it states that the hands CAN’T be used to “grasp, pull, hook, clamp or encircle in any way that illegally impedes or illegally obstructs an opponent.”
And why were the rules relaxed?

Why was it necessary to change the rules on blocking? Think offense. Apparently, the attention span of many began to wane in the late 20th century. A defensive struggle wasn’t sexy enough for many viewers and fans. Touchdowns and scoring are obvious attention grabbers, so what’s the solution to those 9-6 and 13-7 games? Give an advantage to the offense. And one of the quick fixes was to enable offensive linemen to be able to “hold on every play.”

In the old days, it was obvious that if you didn’t have your arms tucked in close to your body you were holding. Now? You give those Guards and Tackles free reign to grab shoulder pads so that they can control a defensive lineman as long as it’s not blatantly obvious that you’ve got a death grip on them.
And what about pass interference?

This rule has also been changed so that the offense now has a distinct advantage. Up until a few years ago, a defender could make contact with a receiver downfield as long as the ball hadn’t left the quarterback’s hand. Today? There are more than 2 pages taken to describe the various fouls and actions which might constitute pass interference, holding, or a personal foul on a pass play. But, there is a section later in the publication titled Interpretations.

Here there are various examples and scenarios described, whether or not the play or action is a penalty, and the correct ruling. Under rule 7, titled “Snapping and Passing the Ball”, there are over 10 pages of examples used to articlulate different rules that guide passing plays.

So, if you’ve read this far, your asking yourself,

“Dude… Why are you bringing this all up? Get to the point!”

The point is this. I don’t think that the referees are as incompetent or inept as they appear. I don’t think they’re exceptionally bad lately, either. I think there’s a simple explanation for what we’ve seen this year. I believe that they are, for the most part, overwhelmed. And to an extent, they are getting too reliant on instant replay to sort out difficult situations.

This Rules and Interpretations book is huge. And it reads like a brief for some sort of litigation being filed in an injury lawsuit. The referees have to be overwhelmed by everything that they must keep an eye on, interpret, and then make a ruling on. The rules and regulations are so detailed and convoluted that I don’t think they’re even sure themselves anymore what constitutes a hold, pass interference, or targeting, to name a few.

Take the South Carolina – Florida game a few weeks ago. The Gator receiver who was blocking for the running back was clearly holding the back of the Carolina DB’s jersey right in front of the game official who was running down the sideline. But, I don’t think the referee realized what he was seeing (if he was indeed watching anything but the running back). And if he did see the “hold”, did he instantaneously understand and interpret the penalty that occurred? This is typically not a reviewable play because it’s not listed in “Section 3. Reviewable Plays”. However, buried deep beneath inside this section under “Limitations on Reviewable Plays” is a caveat which states that “…the replay official may correct obvious errors that may have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.” This play certainly did have an impact as the Gamecocks were only down 7 and early in the 3rd quarter when the play occurred and clearly swung momentum.

But, Instant Replay is now more or less a crutch for officials to go to if they’re not sure of exactly what to call. The rule for what is a complete pass vs what is an incomplete pass is now extremely confusing. So what to do? For many officials it appears that you simply call a pass complete and wait for the replay officials to make the correct call. And what is the end effect on the game? It makes for a longer game. But… networks televising the game don’t care as that is just some additional air time in the middle of the game to paste more commercials up thereby enhancing revenues earned for that game.

So, what’s the solution? Football is a violent game which is premised on violent collisions. We hate to see player injuries, but you have to know what you’re getting yourself into when you are, by rule, required to wear “protective gear” to play a game. The bottom line is that you can’t legislate safety into a violent sport. Simplify the rules. Or, better yet, enforce the rules.

The common “wink-wink” saying popular among players and coaches is that there is holding on every play. Take that away and you’re not favoring on aspect (offense) of the game over the other (defense). Take away the ludicrous “Targeting” rule. That one rule is the most misused in the game. A running back who lowers his head to ram into a defender who has crouched low to make a tackle isn’t targeting?

But, a defender who tries to initiate contact with a ball carrier by leading with the shoulder and inadvertently makes contact with the head is? And as a side note, by having a more simplified rule book the need to go to replay and extending the length of the game is now eliminated.


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