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Greg Johnson | | March 7, 2014

Football rules committee tables defensive substitution proposal

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The Football Rules Committee on Wednesday tabled a proposal for a rules change that would have allowed defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock.

After receiving feedback from head coaches and the medical community during the comment period that took place over the past four weeks, committee members decided to pull the proposal from the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel’s agenda. The panel will meet Thursday via conference call.

The Football Rules Committee originally proposed the rule change to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing both teams a small window in which they could make substitutions before each play. However, since making the recommendation on Feb. 12, the committee received overwhelming feedback from head coaches in opposition to the concept.

“As members of the committee and the NCAA, our rules process allows for a healthy and spirited debate,” said Rogers Redding, secretary-rules editor of the committee. “Today is an example of the process working. The members of the committee used their judgment in the best interest of college football and more importantly what is best for the safety of our student-athletes.”

A total of 324 comments about the proposed rule were received across all NCAA divisions. Of those responding, 74 percent were opposed; 16 percent were in favor; and 6 percent were uncertain.

Further, since their February meeting, committee members have consulted with members of the collegiate medical community and determined that while the committee’s initial concerns about safety had merit, the proposed rule’s effectiveness in addressing such issues was unclear, and further study is warranted.

The Football Rules Committee took note that the current rules of football allow for game stoppage at any time for injuries. The committee discussed and instructed the national coordinator of officials to enhance existing directives for game officials and coaches to look for and recognize when players may be injured. Further, the committee will work with the American Football Coaches Association to help coaches educate student-athletes to use the injury timeout by communicating to an official that they need to come out of the game when they feel injured or unsafe.

Moving forward, the committee will collaborate with the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute to research the impact of style of play and current trends in college football on injury rates and exposure. The committee also underscored that current playing rules allow officials to call a timeout for injured players and coaches.

Penalty recommended for hits below the knee

The Football Rules Committee also unanimously recommended a proposal to better protect passers from low contact at or below the knee.

The penalty would apply when defenders are rushing unabated to the quarterback and would result in a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. As with all rules proposals, the NCAA membership will have a 30-day comment period to provide feedback on the recommendation before it will be considered by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

The topic was previously discussed during the committee’s in-person meeting Feb. 10-12, but no action was taken at that time. However, the commissioners of all 10 FBS conferences unanimously supported that the committee take action on the issue. Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference and chair of College Football Officiating, formally presented the proposal to the committee during the conference call.

After some discussion and review of several video examples, the committee unanimously recommended the proposal.

“It is of paramount importance as the leaders of NCAA football that our rules do everything possible to protect student-athletes,” said Steinbrecher, himself a former football student-athlete. “We have seen how the NFL’s change in this area has impacted behavior and improved the safety of the game for passers. We view this rule change as essential, and we are pleased that the process allows our direct input and that the committee agreed with this proposal.”

The proposed rules change specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground. In that situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit him forcibly at or below the knee. The defensive player also may not initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee area or below.

The exceptions for these types of hits are:

If the passer becomes a runner, either inside or outside the tackle box;
The defender grabs or wraps the passer in an attempt to make a conventional tackle;
The defender is not rushing unabated or is blocked or fouled into the passer.

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