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NCAA makes confusing changes to roughing the passer rule

The organization is attempting to limit lower leg injuries to quarterbacks.

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA announced another rule change for the upcoming college football season Wednesday, adjusting the roughing the passer rule in an attempt to protect quarterbacks from low hits (and the resulting lower body injuries).

Roughing the passer is already a fairly complicated rule -- if a quarterback is hit after releasing the ball, the officials have to make a snap-judgment on whether the defensive player could have stopped himself from making contact.

So, how much more complicated is it?

The rule specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground. In that situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit him forcibly at or below the knee. The defensive player also may not initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee area or below.

Looks like the same kind of stuff -- officials will have to judge the defensive player's ability to prevent the hit and the quarterback's position at the time of the hit. "Passing posture" is certainly something that will be up for debate, but it's not too bad.

But wait, there's more!

There are, unsurprisingly, exceptions to the rule, and this is where the real confusion starts.

The times they are a-changin

Exceptions for these types of hits occur when:

  • the passer becomes a runner, either inside or outside the tackle box;
  • the defender grabs or wraps the passer in an attempt to make a conventional tackle;
  • the defender is not rushing unabated or is blocked or fouled into the passer.

That opens up a whole can of worms, notably about what makes a "conventional tackle" and when the passer becomes a runner. Quarterbacks often run out of a collapsed pocket to find more room to throw -- do they become runners then? Can they become passers if they become set again?

Hopefully, the rule succeeds in cutting down gruesome leg injuries: Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux and Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel each suffered season-ending injuries to their legs last season on plays that may have been penalized (or, ideally, avoided) by this new rule.