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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 09 2013

Examining the new NCAA football rules

FARGO – The helmet-to-helmet college football rule that in past years was a 15-yard penalty will have a bigger bite this season. The NCAA is taking a zero-tolerance policy of sorts.

Players called for the infraction will automatically be ejected.

That offseason change will be addressed by North Dakota State coaches over the course of practice this month. And NDSU head coach Craig Bohl, who sits on the NCAA football rules committee, says he’s in favor of the tougher standards.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Players are so much bigger, stronger, faster and data shows us right now that we have to adjust with the times.”

The rule, called “targeting fouls,” also includes initiating contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. A defender who leaves his feet to “attack” an opponent, for instance, will be ejected and his team penalized 15 yards.

A greater awareness of concussions in recent years and the susceptibility of players to injuries were reasons cited by the NCAA.

“I know the officials have been told that if it’s a close call, call it,” Bohl said.

If they don’t call it, he said, referees will risk a low grade in their postgame report card.

In the Missouri Valley Football Conference, for instance, officials are individually graded by a third party official on every play.

The new rule stands to protect receivers the most, who when leaping for a catch over the middle leave themselves open to a defensive back. Bohl said his team has been flagged for the infraction in the past because his team’s defense has tended to be an aggressive one, and he admits it will be a challenge to tell his defense to back off on those kinds of hits.

“What was an ooh-and-ah hit that everybody jumped up over several years ago will probably get an ejection now,” he said. “We recruit these guys, they’re spirited guys and in a split-second to say make a better decision is not something that is easily done.”

Bohl said the illegal contact will be addressed in his team’s two intrasquad scrimmages this month. NDSU is bringing in Big Ten Conference officials who will conduct a rules session on what will or will not be allowed.

He said his players have a general sense of the new rule, “but we cannot have our guys get ejected over it,” he said. “It’s the way it is. Defensive coaches all across the country have their arms up in the air, saying it’s not fair. Well, get used to it because that’s the way we’re going.”

Other rule changes:

Offensive blocking below the waist. Establishes a zone where blocking below the waist is legal. “I’d like to see no blocking below the waist anywhere,” Bohl said.

Ten-second runoff. If a player is injured in the last minute of each half and that is the sole reason for stopping the clock, an opponent may choose to have 10 seconds removed from the clock.

Helmet coming off. A player can remain in the game if his team takes a timeout.

Spiking the ball. Teams will need a minimum of three seconds to spike the ball to stop the clock. If less, they will only have enough time to run a play.

Changing jerseys. Two players who play the same position may not wear the same number.

Jersey numbers. The color of the jersey number must “clearly and obviously” contrast with the color of the jersey.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia