As has been the case for a number of years, the rule changes in football this season are relatively few and, for the most part, minor.  Below are the changes, presented in approximately order of importance to officiating.

·        Penalty options for fouls on touchdown scoring plays expanded to included scoring team fouls

        The penalty options for fouls during scoring plays have been modified each of the previous two seasons, making it difficult for officials to remember exactly when a foul could be carried over to the ensuing kickoff.  As of this season, if a “defensive” foul occurs during or following a TD scoring play, or if an offensive foul occurs following a TD, the penalty may be taken on the try or carried over to the kickoff (EXCEPTION: none of these may be carried over into overtime).  NOTE:  The time limit for “following a TD” is the ready-for-play signal for the PAT.


        A11 throws a TD pass to A89 and before the ball is in the end zone, B55 “cheap shots” A52.  The TD will stand and A will have the choice of taking the penalty on the PAT or on the kickoff (same as last season).

        A11 throws a TD pass to A89 and before reaching the end zone, A89 taunts B25 by shaking the ball in his face.  The TD will stand and B will have the choice of taking the penalty on the PAT or on the kickoff (new this season).

        A44 scores on a run and following the TD but before the ready-for-play for the PAT, A88 or B88 commits a USC foul.  In either case, the TD will stand and the opponent of the fouling team will have the choice of taking the penalty on the PAT or on the kickoff (new this season in the case of A’s foul).

        NOTE:  All the above situations involve only TDs, not field goals, but the principle is the same—all fouls on field goals that don’t negate the score will be penalized on the kickoff (or, in this case, in overtime).

·        Penalty defined for unintentional contact between a nonplayer and an official in the restricted area

        The two-yard “restricted area” between the sideline and the team box is to remain clear at all times while the ball is alive.  The first time an official inadvertently contacts a coach or other team personnel in this area during a live ball, the penalty is now 15 yards from the succeeding spot and this “illegal personal contact/personal foul” for sideline interference is charged to the head coach, no matter who does the interfering.  If it happens a second time, the head coach is disqualified.  NOTE:  While the signal for sideline interference is used for this foul, this is a totally separate situation from the usual sideline interference where you give a warning for the first offense, 5 yards for the second, and 15 yards for the third.  COMMENT:  Some side officials may be hesitant to call this foul, as the penalty is rather harsh and may raise the ire of the head coach, since the foul is charged to him.  However, we must be consistent across all officiating crews and this is a rule which must be enforced when it is violated.

·        Horse collar clarified

        Last season the “horse collar tackle” was introduced into the rules, but because it was a tackle (which by definition cannot occur during when the ball is dead or loose), the rule presented confusing situations.  For example, a horse collar tackle could not occur after a player had stepped on a sideline, scored a TD, or even when a loss of possession had occurred.  In these situations the action of pulling a player down from behind by grasping near the collar was still illegal, but it had to be called something else besides a horse collar tackle, which was confusing to coaches and spectators. 

        The rule change now alters the terminology from “horse collar TACKLE” to simply “horse collar” so that it can occur during a dead ball and the signal can be used in all such cases.  NOTE:  This rule change has nothing to do with the nature of the offense involved, only in the signal that is used to indicate what occurred.

·        Replaced players—replacement timeframe clarified

        In the past when a substitute informed a player that he was being replaced, the replaced player was to leave the field “immediately.”  The problem was that different officials interpreted “immediately” in different ways.  The rule change now quantifies “immediately” as being three seconds, thus a replaced player now must begin his movement toward the sideline within three seconds after being notified that he is being replaced.  COMMENT:  The rule as written says the player must “leave the field within three seconds.”  This is inaccurate, as it should state that the player must “begin” leaving the field within three seconds.  Maybe we’ll see this in next year’s rules!

·        Coin toss provisions revised

        For many years our association has deliberated over whether it is permissible to allow “honorary” captains in excess of the allowable four captains, to come to the hash marks during the coin toss ceremony.  The new rule statement clarifies this situation by stating that other than the maximum of four captains (and in our case, the head coach), all other team personnel must remain off the field of play (meaning outside the field boundaries).

·        Concussion rule revised

        In the past we have had an “unconscious” player rule which now becomes a “concussion” rule instead.  Before we were to prohibit a player from further participation only if we determined that he had lost consciousness.  The new rule expands the list of symptoms that warrants removal, including loss of consciousness, but also other signs that a concussion has occurred (headache, dizziness, confusion, and balance problems).  If an official (not just the referee!) observes the symptoms of a concussion, the player “shall be immediately removed from the game and shall not return to play until cleared by an appropriate health-care professional.”  COMMENT:  Under the former rule the unconscious player had to have written permission from a physician to return to play (and we have been told that no physician who values his/her license to practice would ever sign such a document!).  Since this new rule expands the symptoms to include several that more commonly occur during contests, how do we handle things on the field now?  If we send a player out because we think he is a little dizzy, or if a player intimates to the umpire between plays that he has a headache, does this end a player’s game?  Can we get around being the one to remove the player in questionable cases by asking the coach to remove a player and take a look at him?

·        Illegal player equipment rule revised

        While the entire section on player equipment has been rewritten, there are a couple of substantive changes that will affect officiating, mainly as related to casts and knee/ankle braces.  As of this season players will not have to provide physician-signed statements that a cast is necessary to protect an injury—indeed, the rule no longer requires that the cast be necessary to protect an injury.  Related to knee and ankle braces, the new rule language states that such braces are legal if warn according to the manufacturer’s design and that no additional padding is necessary.  COMMENT:  What if a team shows up with heavy, but “properly” padded casts on both arms of all their linemen?

·        Restrictions removed on penalty-marker colored pads or gloves

        Previously, pads and gloves could not be the color of penalty flags, presumably to prevent confusion when such items ended up off their player and on the field.  Apparently the rules body no longer thinks this could be a problem, thus the prohibition on penalty-marker colored pads and gloves has been removed.