This year's rule changes just may cause some chaos
Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 30, 2012 at 10:34 p.m.
Every year, the director of officials stands up in front of the group of print media members at SEC Media Days and runs through the rules changes. That we have rules changes on an annual basis (even though this is supposed to be the off year for the rules committee) tells you how reactive the sport of college football is.
Usually when the rules guy stands up there — for the second straight year it was Steve Shaw, who used to be one of the league's best before moving upstairs — it's a good time to check your emails, see what's trending on Twitter or balance your checkbook.
But the rules that have changed this year caught my ear because I don't hear what everyone else hears when a rule is changed.
They hear player safety and that is certainly the intention of these rules.
I see chaos.
I see one of these rules impacting a big game and everyone talking about why the rule was changed in the first place.
When they made it a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul for celebrations on touchdowns, I just knew it would be a huge story during the season. And then the only one that I saw called was on LSU punter Brad Wing. It negated a touchdown against Florida, but LSU would have had to have been penalized a dozen players or so to get UF back into that game.
Still, I can fantasize.
About the kickoffs for example.
The new rule mirrors the NFL rule in that the kickoff will be moved up five yards. That means more touchbacks and fewer returns, likely making the sport safer because kickoffs tend to result in more injuries than any other play.
“We'll probably see less kickoff returns (this year),” said Alabama coach Nick Saban.
But because a touchback comes out now to the 25 instead of the 20, you can smell the great minds of the SEC burning. Those are five big yards. Why not sky kick and pin them inside the 20, especially because you have a five-yard head start?
“We've talked about some sky kicks as far as trying to pin them down,” said Florida's Will Muschamp. “See if we can't pin them back even farther.”
Vandy coach James Franklin said he thinks we will see more squib kicks.
“It's going to be interesting to see how each coach uses these rule changes to their advantage,” he said, “what coaches maybe aren't prepared for the significance of some of these rule changes.”
Hmm, was he calling out some of his fellow coaches?
Like the coaches needed one more thing to make a decision about late in a close game. Imagine, it's a tie game in The Swamp and Muschamp knows Caleb Sturgis can kick it out of the end zone but he thinks his speedy kickoff coverage team can get down there and it's a sky kick and it goes out of bounds.
While the kickoff rule change will have some kind of effect on the game this fall, the one that gets my mind swirling is the one that says a player whose helmet comes off must sit out a play. And that if a player's helmet comes off and he keeps playing, it's a 15-yard penalty.
So one of the most iconic plays in Florida history — UF linebacker Earl Everett chasing Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith after Everett's helmet flew off in 2006 national title game — would have resulted on an Ohio State first down?
The reason for this rule is that you can't watch a game these days without seeing helmets on the ground. The players don't like to buckle the second strap.
“I don't care about whether it's stylish or not, a player needs to wear his helmet properly,” Saban said.
Here's where my mind starts to get busy. Imagine it's the fourth quarter of Arkansas-Alabama. The Hoggies trail 28-24 with 13 seconds to go and are driving. Tyler Wilson can't find a receiver and scrambles to the Alabama four with five seconds to play. Timeout. But as he was tackled Wilson lost his helmet. Now Arkansas will have the biggest play of the game with a quarterback who's been filling up on Gatorade.
We also have the Chris Rainey Rule this year. College football went away from the two-yard halo rule a few years ago, but now will have what Shaw called a “modified halo” rule which means anyone covering a punt has to give the receiver a three-foot buffer.
In other words, he can't be adjusting the returner's thigh pads the way it happened to Rainey last year at Auburn, setting off one of the great sideline tirades of all time by Muschamp.
There are also new rules about blocking below the waist, but when Shaw got to those at media days, I started checking emails. The point of it all is that our game has changed again.
The changes are subtle.
Until they are not.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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