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Publish date: Aug 30, 2010

New football season, new football rules

By Greg Johnson

With the 2010 college football season set to kick off this week, there will be some changes in the way the game is played, though some won’t be noticeable to the undiscerning viewer.

The first change is to the kickoffs themselves.

Receiving teams are no longer allowed to have wedge-blocking formations of three or more players on kickoffs. The NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed the change to better protect student-athletes. NCAA research showed that one of every five injuries that occur on kickoffs resulted in a concussion.

A wedge is defined as two or more players aligned shoulder to shoulder within two yards of each other. Two-player wedges remain legal, but the formation of three or more players in a wedge is now a foul that results in a 15-yard penalty.

It also will be considered a live-ball foul, regardless of whether there is contact between opponents. The penalty will be marked from the spot of the foul or from the spot of where the kick returner was tackled if it is behind the spot where the illegal wedge was formed.

Another change concerning student-athlete health and safety is rule requiring all injured student-athletes, including those who exhibit signs of a concussion, to be cleared by appropriate  medical personnel (as determined by the institution) before returning to competition.

An injured player must also miss a play before he’s allowed to take part in the game again. Previously, a player could return to action before the next play if a timeout was called.

Penalties to curb dangerous contact will continue to be called against players who target the head and neck area of defenseless players. This includes initial contact with a forearm, elbow, shoulder or helmet. A 15-yeard penalty will be enforced on these violations. In egregious situations, officials may eject the offending player.

Last season, the rules that cover dangerous contact were enhanced to specifically include collisions that target a defenseless player. During the 2009 season, conferences were required to review all fouls of this nature and consider suspensions for egregious violations.

In January, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel instructed playing-rules committees to review policies for stopping play for injuries and to consider rules that may further prevent head injuries.

Besides the NCAA Football Rules Committee, other sports committees modified their rules to require removing from play student-athletes suffering any injury (including exhibiting signs of concussion) until cleared to return by appropriate medical professionals.

Following are those that already have taken action:

On April 9, the NCAA hosted a summit for physicians and athletic trainers from all three divisions and explored emerging trends in medical management of concussions and sought to develop a consensus on best practices for responding to such injuries.

These best practices, recommended by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, were distributed to the membership to augment the current NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook guideline on concussions for member institutions to consider in their development of a concussion management plan.

Other changes for this season and beyond:

  • Taunting rule established for 2011. A new rule regarding unsportsmanlike conduct in live-ball situations will go into effect for the 2011 season. For example, if a player makes a taunting gesture to an opponent on the way to scoring a touchdown, a flag will nullify the score and penalize the offending team from the spot of the foul. Penalties for dead-ball misconduct fouls (unsportsmanlike behavior after the player crosses the goal line) will continue to be assessed on the ensuing kickoff or the extra point/two-point conversion attempt.
  • FCS bracket expansion. The Division I Football Championship Subdivision will expand its championship bracket to 20 teams this postseason. Ten conferences will receive automatic qualifying into the field and the rest will be chosen on an at-large basis by the NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee. A result of the larger bracket is that the FCS championship game will be held three weeks later after the semifinal round of competition. This season’s final will be January 7, 2011, in Frisco, Texas. Frisco was named the new host city for the FCS championship game in February. The Texas City, which is about 30 miles north of Dallas, replaces Chattanooga, Tennessee, which hosted the game since 1997.