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Analyzing The 2008 Rule Changes

As has become the norm the past few years, the 2008 season will bring several rule changes that will impact college football. Things can get complicated though, and understanding of the rule can be easily muddied. As a result, here at RBR I'm going to try to keep all of the readers up to date on the major rule changes, and the impact that should result from them. Here goes:

Rule Change #1: The old 25 second play clock has been removed, and has been replaced by a new 40 second play clock, similar to what the NFL has been using for several years now.

Rule Clarification

Under the old system, a 25 second play clock began once the referees spotted the football and blew the whistle, signaling for the play clock countdown to begin. With the new system, a 40 second play clock will begin as soon as the officials blow the previous play dead. This will be what is used under normal situations.

However the 25 second play will still be used in a few situations -- following a team timeout, an injury timeout, change of possession, a score, media timeout, etc. -- so don't be freaked out if you see a 25 second play clock in use. The 40 second play clock is now the norm, but you will still occasionally see the 25 second play clock, too. If the 25 second play clock is to be used, the head official will signal it to the play clock administrators by showing one open palm over the head in a pumping motion.

Rule Impact

The actual impact on play will perhaps not be overly noticeable to the casual viewer. As a whole, though, it's a positive move for the game, and it is something that should have been instituted a long time ago.

The problem with the old 25 second play clock was the inconsistency in the amount of time between snaps. Occasionally the officials would quickly spot the ball and you would be rushed, but other times they would take all damn day and you have a huge amount of time to get the ball snapped. It created a major problem where there was little uniformity in the time between snaps. The new rule change will cut down the variance in time between snaps, and will give coaches, players, and play-callers a more consistent time-frame upon which to operate. It's a long overdue rule change.

Rule Change #2: All players are now strictly prohibited from the inside of the back collar of the pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the pads or jersey, and immediately pulling the runner down.

Rule Clarification

The understanding and application of this rule is about as simple as it gets. It's easy to spot, and it's simple as understand... you just cannot pull a guy down by the collar, simple as that. You cannot pull down from the back or the side of the dollar, end of story.

This rule, however, does not apply in all situations. There are two major exceptions to the rule where the ban against horsecollar tackles does not apply: runners who are inside the tackle box, and quarterbacks who are in the pocket. In other words, this rule only applies when backs and receivers are out in the open field and get pulled down from behind. As long as a runner is inside the tackle box, or a quarterback is in the pocket, you can legally bring down an offensive player via a horsecollar tackle.

When called, a horsecollar tackle will constitute a 15 yard personal foul penalty.

Rule Impact

The main, and honestly only, objective of this rule is player safety. It's a good move in that sense that it should cut down on injuries, and honestly both the NCAA and the NFL probably drug their feet on bringing it about. As far as actual gameplay changes, however, the differences will be minimal. It will give defenders a stronger incentive to make better form tackles, as opposed to just grabbing someone anywhere and anyway they can, but the impact is probably going to be a bit limited in terms of gameplay.

Rule Change #3: The old 5 yard incidental facemask penalty has been removed from the rulebook. As of now, there is only a 15 yard facemask penalty.

Rule Clarification

In previous years, you had two different varieties of facemask penalties: incidental facemasks and personal foul facemasks. The former resulted in a penalty of only five yards, but the latter was fifteen. Now, however, the five yard incidental facemask simply does not exist. Past instances that would have resulted in a five yard penalty will simply not be called.

Now, with only the fifteen yard penalty, the crux of whether or not the penalty is called depends solely on whether or not the defender pulled, twisted, or turned the facemask. If so, we have a fifteen yard personal foul penalty. If not, no penalty will be called.

Rule Impact

This is one of the most visible rule changes you will see this season, and is honestly a good one. The incidental facemask infractions were mainly accidental violations where no harm was done to the opponent, and where no tangible benefit was gained by the defender. In all honesty, it was always a nit-picky violation and it is probably a good thing that the infraction has been eliminated.

This one, however, will draw the ire of many, many fans over its application. You can just get ready for it now, several times this year there will be fans screaming bloody murder after their team got screwed over when either an slight incidental touching of the facemask was called a fifteen yard penalty, or when their team got screwed over when an obvious facemask goes uncalled. Just get ready for it right now.

Again, I think it's a good rule change, but you can just prepare yourself for legions of fans to be pissed off about its application sometime throughout the year.

Rule Change #4: Instant replay has been expanded to cover situations regarding field goals.

Rule Clarification

In previous years, field goals were not reviewable plays, but that has changed for the 2008 season. With the new rule change, instant replay will be available in certain situations. This new rule change is applicable only to situations where (a) the ball is ruled above or below the cross bar, or (b) the ball is ruled inside or outside the uprights as long as the ball does not go above the uprights. It's pretty simple, it covers just about all kicks aside from those that literally go over the top of the upright (like the controversial kick that ended the 2001 Independence Bowl versus Iowa State. 

Rule Impact

The impact of this one may very well be quite minimal. Given the current way referees view field goal attempts, this is unlikely to change anything because most field goal attempts aren't really all of that controversial in the first place. Nevertheless, you may see it on occasion, so it is a possibility at this point.

Rule Change #5: The old sideline warning on teams has been eliminated, and now the first two instances will result in a five yard penalty, and the third instance will result in a fifteen yard penalty.

Rule Clarification

In the past, when the Get-Back-Guy would fail to do his job -- and if you don't know who the Get-Back-Guy is, I suggest you watch the hilarious NFL Films piece on the subject -- the referee would announce a sideline warning on the team imposing itself upon the field of play. Under the old system, you got two warnings, and if you did it a third time you received a penalty. Under the new penalty, however, the first two infractions will result in penalties and the third infraction will result in a fifteen yard penalty. There are no more warnings.

Rule Impact

This one, too, might create a bit of controversy because people are not used to situations like this. Hopefully, though, the impact won't be that great because referees will exercise caution in throwing penalty flags, but we will just have to wait to see how it works in practice.

Rule Change #6: When kick-offs go out of bounds, receiving teams will now have the option of putting the ball in play 30 yards from the spot that the ball went out of bounds.

Rule Clarification

Last year the rule changes stated that when a kick-off went out of bounds, the receiving team had the option of either taking the ball at their own 35, or making the kicking team re-kick from their own 25. This year, however, teams will have a third option, which is taking the ball 30 yards upfield from where the ball went out of bounds. For example, if a kick goes out of bounds at the 11 yard line, the receiving team will have the option of taking the ball at their own 41.

Rule Impact

You will see this new option used very often by coaches in 2008. Last year just about everyone chose to just take the ball at the 35 anyway, instead of getting the re-kick from the opposing team's 25, and now you set up a very simple decision matrix for coaches: If the ball goes out of bounds inside the five yard line, take the ball at the 35, but if the ball goes out of bounds past the five yard line, then take the ball 30 yards upfield.

Moreover, this rule change will give a major benefit to teams who have kickers who can consistently keep the ball in-bounds. If a kicker badly shanks a kick-off with the new rule, the receiving team will easily be able to start with the ball midfield. Trust me, you will see a few games decided this season where a kicker badly shanks a kick-off, the opposing team starts with great field position, and then goes on to use that to get the victory.

Rule Change #7: Coaches who successfully challenge a play will retain their one-allotted challenge.

Rule Clarification

In the past, once a coach used his one challenge somewhere over the course of the game, it was gone for good, regardless of the outcome of the challenge. Now, however, if a coach successfully challneges a player, he will retain his challenge. However, it should be pointed out that this can only occur one time. In other words, a coach cannot successfully challenge two plays and still have a challenge remaining.

Rule Impact

This rule may seemingly make an impact considering it gives coaches an incentive to make smart challenges -- whereas before coaches were often hesitant to challenge plays they felt confident about because it meant they would have been without a challenge later in the game -- but in all likelihood the impact will likely be very minimal. One of the unintended side effects of the instant replay system in college football is that the booth reviews damn near every meaningfully close play, and as a result most of the time coaches don't even need their challenge anyway. I suppose it can help in some situations, but considering the booth reviews will still dominate, the impact is likely to be quite limited.