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Round Table: What College Football Rules Changes Would You Like to See?

Brian, Jeff and Chris dish on the on-field rules they’d like to see changed, and how they’d change them.

Tulsa v University of Central Florida Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

With the Alliance of American Football opening play this weekend at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando and elsewhere, we caught a glimpse into what some potential rule changes that have been theorized would look like in practice. The AAF has established itself as a proving ground for some interesting tweaks to the game, not to mention the change to see a few UCF Knights alumni on the field again.

So with that, a few of us decided to pitch a few rule changes we’d like to see in College Football. Here’s our Round Table:

Eliminate touchbacks following a fumble that goes through the end zone without a recovery.

Brian Murphy

When tasked with this assignment, I initially dug deep to think of something that would blow your mind. Some rule change that no one had thought of previously.

That lasted about 30 minutes until I just said, “Aw, screw it. I’ll pick the most obvious necessary change out there.” And now I’ll never get those 30 minutes back.

Unequivocally, enforcing that non-recovered fumbles which cross the goal line and go out of bounds must result in a touchback is one of the stupidest, most arbitrary rules in sport. And this is a sport, a game of inches, in which men in their 60s often arbitrarily place the ball where they *think* the last play ended. Was the runner down at the 36 or the 36-and-a-half? it matters, but whatever, the AARP member in the stripes who was 5 yards behind the play when it ended knows what’s right. RIGHT?

Touchbacks via fumbles obviously aren’t nearly as common, but that doesn’t make their existence any less absurd.

Can you think of a sport with a rule that disincentivizes and punishes effort as much as this one? If an offensive player fumbles at any other part of the field and the ball rolls out of bounds, the ball is either placed back at the spot of the fumble (was it the 36 or 36-and-a-half, ref?) or, in the case of the backwards fumble, at the spot where it contacted the sideline.

But put a designated scoring area in the way, and suddenly a non-recovered fumble that goes out of bounds gives possession to the other team at the 25? I’m sensing a general lack of consistency here, kids.

To be clear: Fumbles that roll out of the offensive team’s own end zone should still result in a safety. It’s on the other end of the field where the problem exists, and the solution is simple. You know what it should be; it should be the same as at every other part of the field.

When a player loses his grip on a ball and it goes through the end zone, simply put the ball back where the possession was lost. If the fumble came on a fourth-and-goal, then it’s a turnover on downs and the defense takes over at the spot where possession was lost ... and we’re going to need robot refs to get that correct. OK, I’ll stop.

Ultimately, continuity is usually a good thing. The NFL could use more of it inside its rule book, and this is a fine place to start.

This rule has been criminally subtracting points from teams and players for far too long. As a result, it has cost people jobs and money even though it follows absolutely no logic.

Taking away possession of the ball because a player couldn’t quite hang on while in midair for a possible game-winning touchdown as multiple men try to crush him is a comically bad rule. Its continued use is good for only one thing: Having a debate with your buddies on how much you would need to imbibe before such a rule starts making sense to you.

Allow multiple players to motion at the snap of the ball.

Chris Carter

Seriously, this is the dumbest rule ever. I’m not sure what the percentage is of all penalties that involve someone either not being set or flinching on the line of scrimmage. Football is a game of constant motion and to have this be an infraction is an affront to the beauty of the game itself.

For an argument as to how the game would look all we have to do is look north to the Canadian Football League. They have no such silly rule for players lined up in the backfield having to be set and it hasn’t seemed to ruin their game there. Pre-snap there are players constantly in motion. It actually makes defending this constant motion more challenging for the defense as it disguises the plays and also makes it harder to jam players on the line of scrimmage. The largest benefit, of course, is that there isn’t the constant tweeting of referee’s whistles holding up the game for simple movement and stagnating offensive drives with penalty yards when the ball hasn’t even been snapped.

Bottom line, do away with this ridiculous rule and allow any motion other than crossing the line of scrimmage before the snap of the ball. It will make the game more exciting, defensively challenging, and less bogged down by needless penalties.

Eliminate extra points and kickoffs by combining them

Jeff Sharon

It seems to be an article of faith that kickoffs will go the way of the dinosaur at some point in the future. They’ve been monkeyed around with to within an inch of their lives anyway, due to (quite valid) player safety concerns.

They’re also just weird. Kickoffs are the only plays in football that do not take place from scrimmage. Sure, they’re exciting at the beginning of a game with all the fan chants and whatnot, but what purpose do they really serve other than being a vestige of football’s origins in rugby?

And if kickoffs present unnecessary injury risk within the kicking game for the purposes of fulfilling Depression Era rules, then why do we also still have extra point kicks?

Everyone loves to tweet #collegekickers, but in 2018, the top 108 kickers in FBS who averaged one field goal per game were a combined 97.1% on extra points (4496/4629). That’s down exactly 0.1% from 2017 (4428/4555, 97.2%). Effectively, this is a layup, and yet players are exposing themselves to intense high-velocity contact in an effort to block, or prevent a block of, the extra point. (Side note: The NFL was 99.3% the year before they moved the extra point back to the ten yard line.)

So extra points are as useless as kickoffs are weird, not to mention unnecessarily hazardous to player health.

There have been a number of proposals for doing both of these things, but how do we maintain the chance for an onside kick replacement? Greg Schiano’s 4th-and-15 proposal caught a few headlines, and the AAF has the 4th-and-12 at the 28 (down 17 or less in the 4th quarter only) but still feels gimmicky.

Fear not, college football fan. I’ve figured out a way to do all of that. Here we go:

  • Eliminate the kickoff for good. The team that gets the ball at the start of a half just starts 1st-and-10 at their own 25-yard line.
  • After a touchdown, the scoring team has a choice. The team captain tells the referee that you accept an automatic one point. Call it the NFL Blitz Rule.
  • If you want to go for two, you have a choice. You may go for two at the two-yard-line, and if yo make it, you get the two. If the two-point conversion is no good, you stay at 6 points. The other team then gets the ball at their 25.
  • Here’s where it gets fun: In the fourth quarter only, you can choose to go for two from the ten-yard-line. If you make it, you get the ball back at midfield (replacing the onside kick). But if you miss, you give up the ball.
  • There is no onside option after going for one, although if we wanted one, perhaps we could move the kick back further to, say, 60 yards.

Why the ten-yard line? The probability of scoring on a 4th-and-goal from the ten in college football (using data from 2006-2012), according to Kevin Rudy, is about 21%. I couldn’t find any college football onside kick stats (holler at me if you do), but in the NFL, the success rate of onside kicks in the fourth quarter before the league’s rule changes was...20%.

So there you go. We’ve killed four birds with one stone: Eliminated the kickoff and the extra point kick, saved the onside kick, and we also saved ourselves from having to name a rule after Greg Schiano.

Here are some other ideas we have:

  • Make muffed punts advanceable. Muffs not being advanceable is an arcane leftover from rugby. A muffed punt is just like a fumble, except you can’t return it once you pick it up? Rubbish.
  • Make pass interference a spot foul like in the NFL. NFL DB play is bad because players are taught from high school through college to just tackle the receiver if they get beat. Making PI a spot foul will result in better secondary play in college, once coaches and players adjust.
  • Ban all tackling above the shoulders. Targeting is impossible to rule on correctly because of the intent factor. So if we’re going to ban dangerous hitting, just ban hitting any player above the shoulders, full stop, just like in rugby.
  • 1-yard neutral zone. One of the main problems with head injuries has to do with the buildup of microconcussions from close contact between linemen dozens of times in a game. One way to alleviate that is to allow linemen a split second more to get their hands up and lessen the initial blow. A one-yard neutral zone, like they have in the CFL, allows for this.
  • If the game is stopped due to an injury, the injured player must leave the game until a change of possession. Let’s call this the Mike Gundy Rule. Because:
  • Make a safety worth 4 points. Seems like an awful lot of work for just two (Adjustment for the holding in the end zone penalty: loss of down, ball placed back at the 1-yard line).
  • Allow celebrations. Because duh.

Poll

Which rule change do you want to see in college football the most?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Eliminate touchbacks from fumbles through the end zone.
    (1 vote)
  • 22%
    Eliminate extra points and kickoffs by combining them.
    (2 votes)
  • 11%
    Make muffed punts advanceable.
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Make PI a spot foul.
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Ban all tackling above the shoulders.
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    One-yard neutral zone.
    (0 votes)
  • 33%
    Injured players must leave the field until possession change.
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Safety = 4 points.
    (0 votes)
  • 22%
    Allow celebrations.
    (2 votes)
9 votes total Vote Now

Got any other recommendations? Let us know below in the comments.