There are two significant rules changes coming to college football in the fall.
First, players are barred from leaping over the line of scrimmage to block a field goal or extra-point attempt.
Also, it’s now an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if a coach enters the field to object to an officiating decision.
The first rule — let’s call it the Zach Cunningham rule — is a player-safety initiative.
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Cunningham, a former Vanderbilt linebacker and second-round draft pick of the Texans, made a game-saving field goal block after hurdling Auburn’s long snapper last season.
“It was crazy to see,” Commodores senior linebacker Oren Burks said during SEC Media Days on Tuesday. “I know how athletic he is and how much he wants to win. Just putting those things together and getting it done, that’s just what Zach does.”
The NCAA Football Rules Committee decided that too often players get caught in the air, upended and risk landing on their head.
“Zach made it illegal?” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “That’s nice.”
Stationary players within one yard of the line of scrimmage are permitted to jump and players from farther back are allowed to run forward through gaps, but Cunningham’s highlight-reel moment won’t be repeated.
That’s a bummer for Burks.
“Honestly, if the time came, I would have done it,” he said. “I remember literally talking with Zach right before that play and he was like, ‘We’ve got to jump this thing.’ You do what you’ve got to do to win.”
SEC Coordinator of Football Officials Steve Shaw said the unsportsmanlike conduct emphasis is designed to ensure coaches model appropriate behavior.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he’d delegate responsibility to an assistant coach, who is “going to hang on to us and make sure we don’t go across that line.”
“I’m obviously concerned about it at a critical time,” Smart added, “but it is a rule and we’ve got to follow the rules. … You’d hate to see a game decided by something like that, but it’s the rule. We’ve been briefed on it, and we’ve all got to adhere to it.”
Coaches are still allowed to protest a call and chew out officials, but they have to stay on the white painted portion of the sideline.
“That will be a pretty big change, but I think our hope is our coaches adjust and it becomes a nonissue,” Shaw said.
The horse-collar tackle rule, which penalizes pulling a ball-carrier down by grabbing the inside of the jersey or shoulder pads from behind, has been expanded to include the nameplate area.
The rule still does not apply when the ball-carrier remains in the tackle box. It only applies to open-field tackles.
Shaw was pleased with the debut of collaborative instant replay, which allowed replay officials in the stadium and in SEC offices to review plays in tandem. There was an average of 2.2 stoppages per game for an average delay of 1 minute and 26 seconds.
“We saw collaborative replay as something that helped us,” he said. “We see other conferences now adopting it, and I think it’s here to stay.”
The NCAA Football Rules Committee delayed implementation of a uniform rule, which will require all players to wear knee pads under pants that cover the knees, until 2018.
Finally, Shaw there were 26 targeting calls in SEC games, including five that were initiated from the replay official in the press box.
Five of those targeting calls also were overturned upon review.